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Lott Rises Again

Proving that there is always a second act in politics, Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott (R) defeated Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) in the race for the second-ranking position in the GOP leadership.

Lott's one-vote victory completes a four-year bust and boom cycle for the Mississippi senator that began in late 2002 when he was forced to resign as Senate Majority Leader after making what were widely interpreted as racially insensitive comments at the 100th birthday party of then Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). In the immediate aftermath of his resignation as leader, many political observers expected Lott not to run for re-election in 2006 -- bringing to an end a 32-year political career that began when he was elected to the U.S. House in 1972.

But, citing his work after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Lott decided to seek re-election and easily won another Senate term last week.

What does Lott's leadership victory tell us about politics within the Senate Republican Conference? First, the promises of GOP Senators in these inside-the-caucus votes are not to be trusted. The Fix's alma mater Roll Call ran a story (subscription only) in which Alexander not only claimed he had enough commitments to win the post but said the only question that remained was whether he would win by a "bare majority" or a "consensus." Whoops.

The Lott win hearkens back to the 2004 Republican leadership elections when Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman (R) entered the secret ballot voting absolutely certain he would be elected the next chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. When the lawmakers emerged from the vote Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) had won the post.

Second, Lott's win improves the internal position of Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) as he moves toward an all-but-certain run for president in 2008. Lott's campaign team for his leadership bid included McCain himself as well as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu -- McCain allies. Lott and Graham have already pledged to support McCain in 2008; Sununu has made no public pronouncement.

Need more evidence of the McCain connection? A principal plank in Lott's pitch, according to one informed source, was that his close relationship with McCain would pay dividends for the conference if the Arizona Senator wins the White House in 2008.

But before McCain advocates get too excited about Lott's win, they should remember that Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell was elected Minority Leader this morning. McConnell and McCain have feuded over McCain's effort to reform the nation's campaign finance system.

By Chris Cillizza  |  November 15, 2006; 12:52 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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