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Trent Lott: Reading the Tea Leaves

Recent comments by Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott (R) have reinvigorated talk that he will leave the Senate in 2006, opening up another potential target for Democrats already predicting gains in the midterm elections.


Will he or won't he? Sen. Lott sends mixed signals about his political future. (Melina Mara - The Washington Post)

In a recent interview with the Biloxi Sun Herald, Lott said from "a personal standpoint, I need a little more income."  He continued, "The people I care most about, those on the Coast, are hurting and need help." As can be the case with the Mississippi senator, Lott seemingly contradicted himself in the next sentence: "There's been the implication that I can do more here for them than somebody else but the truth is somebody else could do just as good." (Excerpts from Lott's Q&A are here.)

That last statement seems to indicate that Lott is leaning against a fourth term, but recent history has shown that predicting the next step in the Mississippian's political career is a fool's errand.

After being deposed as Senate majority leader in 2002 following impolitic remarks made at a birthday celebration for the late South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, most political observers put long odds on the likelihood of Lott running for reelection. But in the intervening years, Lott has reemerged as a player within the Republican conference and has even begun to discuss the possibility of running for his old position again after current Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) retires in 2006.

Should Lott run for reelection, he wins.  But if he decides to retire after 34 years in Washington (18 in the Senate, 16 in the House), the open seat will draw the attention of both national parties.

On its face, the state tilts strongly toward Republicans. President Bush carried it with 59 percent of the vote in 2004, and GOP lawmakers make up two-thirds of the congressional delegation. Democrats counter that with a black population of 36 percent, Mississippi is in play in an open-seat scenario.

There is little mystery among Republicans about their potential nominee.  Third District Rep. Chip Pickering (R), a onetime staffer for Lott, is considered the heir apparent.  The image of Pickering as a senator-in-waiting was bolstered in 2003 when he turned down a lucrative offer to head the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. 

Asked about Pickering's interest in an open Senate seat, spokesman Brian Perry said only that his boss hopes Lott and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) "remain in Washington for a long time." 

The Democratic side is significantly more complicated.  The preferred candidate is former state Attorney General Mike Moore, who has been the golden child of Mississippi Democratic politics for the better part of a decade. Moore became a household name in the Magnolia State (and nationally) in the mid-1990s when he led a massive legal assault on the tobacco industry, an effort that resulted in a settlement totalling billions dollars for the states involved.

Both Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) have spoken to Moore about a possible bid in recent weeks, according to informed Democratic sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the conversations publicly. Moore, who is now a private practice attorney, did not return a call seeking comment.

Sam Hall, communications director at the Mississippi Democratic Party, said that "if Moore decides to run, which he is being heavily encouraged to, we have a very good shot."

Moore remains undecided on the race, and has shown a penchant for flirting with major races before backing away. In 1999, he was in the race for governor but dropped out to seek reelection as AG, ceding the field to Ronnie Musgrove, who eventually won the office.

If Moore chooses not to run, Democrats' chances diminish somewhat. The other Democrats mentioned are Musgrove, former Gov. Ray Mabus and state Supreme Court Justice James Graves Jr.

One potential candidate who will not run is former Rep. Mike Espy (D).  Espy, who served as Agriculture Secretary during President Clinton's first term until a scandal prompted his resignation, took himself out of consideration in a conversation Monday, saying he is focusing all his energies on the congressional campaign of his nephew, Henry "Chuck" Espy (D).  Chuck Espy is seeking to unseat Rep. Bennie Thompson (D) in the state's 2nd District.  Mike Espy said that given his involvement in his that race it would be "impossible for me to run for anything."

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 20, 2005; 8:20 AM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Comments

Being indicted is about as close as most connectedn'wealthy get to being "in trouble,"....
drawing conclusions from acquittal is like saying because the tobacco industry has been relieved from paying the fines that were levied against them means that they didn't really commit any crimes...unless you'd call murder and conspiracy a crime....but hey that might excite the people that defend them....and it sounds rude, so it must be....it was....they were.

Posted by: It's interesting that if you have enough money to throw around you rarely get convicted of anything. | December 27, 2005 12:36 PM | Report abuse

It is worth noting in your comments related to Mike Espy that though a scandal forced him out of office, he was eventually cleared on those charges.

Posted by: Cedric | December 21, 2005 10:19 AM | Report abuse

I can certainly see why Mike Moore would be a major contender for this potential Senate race. The Katrina disasters and 36% black electorate certainly make the state worth looking at more. But what about former Rep. Ronnie Shows? Of course, Mississippi votes strongly Republican in presidential elections against nominees like Gore and Kerry, but I'd think a conservative Democrat like Shows who's been elected in the state already would also make it a good race. Not that any Democrat who could win in Mississippi would be a candidate *I* could support or donate to, but any Dem (and some Republicans) would be better than snake-oil salesman Trent Lott any day.

P.S. That $165,000 annual salary just isn't making ends meet for Rick Santorum or Trent Lott. I suspect they and we would be much happier with them out of public office.

Posted by: Sandwich Repairman | December 21, 2005 1:19 AM | Report abuse

Mike Moore - Professional, intelligent, capable - would bring a welcome change to our Mississippi politics.

Posted by: Sue | December 20, 2005 9:07 PM | Report abuse

re: LOTT NEEDS MORE INCOME

Yuppers he need to rebuild that 1812 southern mansion he and Bush like to sit on the veranda on and drink until they are blotto.

Posted by: Kurt | December 20, 2005 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I agree about Gene Taylor, he is a great and moving public speaker and is conservative enough on social issues for Mississippians to feel comfortable with him as well. I sure would like him to be in a debate with Senator Lott (or any other Republican). He would do great, I think. However, the state attorney general would be a great choice as well and I hope he runs if Rep. Taylor doesn't.

Posted by: Jason | December 20, 2005 1:25 PM | Report abuse

It's Gene Taylor, not Gene Simmons ... that would be the guy from KISS.

Posted by: Ben | December 20, 2005 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Lott should run, but as a Democrat!

Posted by: TheHare | December 20, 2005 12:33 PM | Report abuse

"..if he decides to retire after 34 years in Washington, the open seat will draw the attention of both national parties."

Like saying water is wet, isn't it? When does an open seat NOT draw the attention of both national parties?

Posted by: lpdrjk | December 20, 2005 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Unless the federal response to Katrina improves drastically, I would hardly consider it a given that Mississippi will stay a red state.

Posted by: scootmandubious | December 20, 2005 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Michael Moore, Democratic Senator from Mississippi. Love the sound of that.

Slightly OT:

Lott said, "so disappointed with the [Bush] administration's response to this disaster that I'm almost embarrassed."

http://www.thejacksonchannel.com/news/5570000/detail.html

Join the crowd.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | December 20, 2005 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Oops, that should of course have read Gene Taylor - I'm not sure how well KISS play in Mississippi!

Posted by: Adam Gray | December 20, 2005 10:17 AM | Report abuse

I thought Democratic Rep Gene Simmons - who represents the Mississippi coastal district worse hit by Katrina - was considering running. Has he dropped out? If he hasn't don't you think he's a credible candidate, and if not, why? Cheers.

Posted by: Adam Gray | December 20, 2005 10:15 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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