Pickering May Replace Lott, Analyst Says

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT


(CNSNews.com) - The announcement Monday that Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) will retire before the end of the year has "taken a lot of people by surprise" and will "shake up the Republican leadership," according a conservative political analyst, who speculated that Rep. Charles "Chip" Pickering may be chosen to fill Lott's Senate seat.

Lott announced Monday that he will leave the Senate by the end of the year. "We've had this great experience for these 35 years," Lott said of himself and his wife, Tricia, in a statement, "but we do think that there is time left for us to maybe do something else."

"Some of these Senate races are right now shaping up to be very difficult for Republicans so many Republicans, I think, are making the calculation that if they're going to leave Congress, this is the time to do it," said Brian Darling, director of U.S. Senate Relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

But Lott isn't up for re-election until 2012. Some analysts suggested Lott is retiring to avoid new Senate ethics rules that require retired members of Congress to wait two years following their retirement before becoming lobbyists. By leaving the Senate before the end of the year, Lott could avoid the two-year waiting period.

"It's really all conjecture right now," Darling said of speculation on Lott's reason for retiring. "I think it's not inconsistent with what's happened in Congress with a lot of members, a lot of Republican members, resigning their seats and choosing to do different things other than be members of Congress."

In his statement, Lott did not say what he would do after retiring from the Senate. "I don't know what the future holds for us," he said. "A lot of options, hopefully, will be available. I've always thought I might like to teach some. As the son of a school teacher, why wouldn't I want to do that?"

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Republican, will appoint Lott's replacement within 10 days of the retirement taking effect. A special election will be held Nov. 4, 2008 to fill the seat for the remainder of Lott's term, which is scheduled to end in 2012. Darling said Lott's timing could also be an attempt to help the person who is appointed to replace him.

"Whoever gets appointed to sit in that seat will have a huge advantage when running in that election," Darling said. "It should be a reasonably safe seat for whoever gets appointed to take the remaining term of Trent Lott."

Many analysts, including Darling, speculate that U.S. Rep. Charles "Chip" Pickering is high on the list to replace Lott. Pickering was considering running for Senate in Missouri anyway if Sen. Thad Cochran, also a Republican, decided not to run for re-election.

In a statement Monday, Barbour said Lott's resignation is "a terrible loss for Mississippi and for the country." Barbour did not say who was under consideration as a replacement, only that he would not appoint himself senator and would not run in the special election.

In a statement released shortly after Lott's announcement, Pickering praised him as a "great statesman. He has served our nation and Mississippi with devotion, energy, and passion."

Pickering did not mention his own future plans regarding the Senate seat. Pickering had previously announced he would not seek re-election to the House to spend more time with his family. A spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on the speculation that Pickering tops the list of potential replacements.

Lott becomes the sixth Republican to announce his retirement. Others not seeking re-election include Wayne Allard of Colorado, Larry Craig of Idaho, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and John Warner of Virginia. Seventeen House Republicans have also announced they will not seek re-election in 2008.

Darling predicted even more members of Congress, mostly Republicans, will start announcing their own retirements in coming weeks. "Maybe you'll see other resignations before the end of the year for other members that want to keep the option open of potentially lobbying and not having a two-year ban," he said.

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