Trent Lott Considers Retirement
Bob Novak reports that former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is strongly considering retiring at the end of the year, and some prominent Republicans are begging him to run for re-election.
Trent Lott within the next week plans to decide between seeking a fourth term in the U.S. Senate from Mississippi or retiring from public life. That could determine whether Republicans keep control of the Senate in next year’s elections. For the longer range, Lott’s retirement and replacement could signal that Southern political realignment has peaked and now is receding.
Mississippi, one of the reddest of the red Republican states, has not even been on the game board of the Washington analysis forecasting the 2006 Senate outcome. But in Mississippi, prominent Republicans are worried sick. They believe Lott will probably retire. If so, they expect the new senator will be a Democrat, former State Attorney General Mike Moore. Republican politicians in Mississippi believe Rep. Chip Pickering, the likely Republican nominee if Lott does not run, cannot defeat Moore.
Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman pleaded with Lott last week to run again. The senator was as blunt with this emissary from President Bush as he was with me. “Where is our vision and our agenda?” he asked. The malaise afflicting the Bush administration not only threatens a Senate seat in Mississippi but impacts Lott’s decision whether to retire.
He said a six-year Senate term poses a major undertaking, adding that he considered not running for his third term in 2000 when he was still majority leader. His personal financial condition has deteriorated since then with the loss of half his net worth when Hurricane Katrina swept away his home at Pascagoula, Miss. “The hurricane is what has made this decision difficult for me,” Lott told me. On the one hand, “the performance by the administration has been poor and the Congress has not been a lot better.”
Lott wonders what his senatorial role would be beginning his fourth term at age 65 without a leadership position or significant committee chairmanship. Sen. John McCain has urged Lott to return as leader of Senate Republicans (succeeding Sen. Bill Frist, who is leaving the Senate). But that would require an aggressive campaign against Majority Whip Mitch McConnell that Lott is not inclined to pursue.
McConnell is one of my favorite senators and I would certainly prefer him to Lott as the face of the party in the Senate. I don’t know what his leadership skills are but he could scarcely be a downgrade over Frist. Lott was an excellent climber, haven scaled the ranks of both the House and the Senate, but did a poor job once at the top.
It is rather amusing to see the GOP leadership–especially the “maverick” McCain–recruiting Lott so hard. I suppose a safe seat trumps a lot.
Update AP’s Jack Elliot weighs in with a piece cleverly titled, “Lott of speculation surrounds 2006 Senate race.” He doesn’t add much new information, other than pointing out the key dates:
Lott says he and his family planned to sit down during the holidays to decide whether he will run for re-election in 2006. He recently told The Sun Herald: “I won’t be complicating anybody’s Christmas by making a decision” before the first of the year.
Candidates’ qualifying deadline is March 1. Party primary elections are June 6. The general election is Nov. 7.
The Chicago Sun-Times variant of the Novak piece carries the title, “Control of Senate may hinge on Lott.” If nothing else, I’m sure Lott is enjoying the attention.