Washington Prowler

Shaky Overconfidence

Capitol Hill Republicans expect big things come November 5. Really? UPDATE: Mitch McConnell next GOP Senate whip?

By 10.22.02

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Sunday's Washington Post ran a front page story outlining all of the plans and policies confident GOP-ers on the Hill were going to implement once full control of Capitol Hill was attained in early November. But if Republicans are so sure about continuing control of the House and regaining control of the Senate, it isn't showing up on Capitol Hill, no matter what the Post says. Late last week Republican staffers from several important Senate offices could be found in Capitol Hill watering holes mapping out their future employment, and none of it involved shiny new leadership positions on Senate committees.

"I guess we're being more realistic than our bosses," says a Senate staffer for a Western Senator up for re-election. "I'm thinking I'm going to need to find a new job. I don't know any Republican staffer who really believes we're going to pull this thing off. There are too many variables."

The biggest question mark on the Senate side was what would happen with Assistant Republican Leader (i.e., minority whip) Don Nickles, who is term limited in his leadership position. Late last week, Nickles informed his senior staff that he would not be seeking Majority or Minority Leader next January. This, after current leader Trent Lott, according to several staffers in his office, uncertain of Nickles's thinking, put the screws to a number of Republican Senators over the past three weeks, demanding that they make a commitment to support him as GOP leader regardless of the election outcome.

Nickles posed the greatest threat to Lott's stature, but press darling Sen. Bill Frist was thought to be a potential, if improbable challenger to Lott. The improbability arises from Frist's comparatively low seniority, making it difficult for him to leapfrog more senior Republicans, such as Larry Craig of Idaho and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"He [Lott] was getting tired of all the whispering and the backbiting going on around him," says a Lott staffer. "This man has given his blood and sweat to the Republicans in the Senate, and he deserves a chance to lead them back to the promised land. He wasn't going to stand by and watch others steal the job he's earned and held."

But Republicans doubt that Lott is capable of leading anyone anywhere given his lackluster showing as leader over the past four years. His political missteps in 2000 doomed the party to losing control of the Senate. And even today, colleagues point to the fact that he has failed to tamp down talk of Sen. Lincoln Chafee jumping to Independent status like soulmate Jim Jeffords did last go-round.

"If Chafee jumps it's Lott's fault and his alone. He's ignored that problem, acted like it wasn't there. Well, if we win back majority it's probably going to be by one seat. All of a sudden we're back to where we were in 2000 again," says a Republican senator.

Most likely the Republican whip slot will go to either Craig or McConnell, both of whom have rock-ribbed conservative credentials similar to Nickles. Craig is given the early edge, although given the amount of money McConnell has raised for his colleagues over the years, it's far too early to count him out.

UPDATE (10/22/11:15 AM): In response to the above, Hill sources tell the Prowler that Sen. Mitch McConnell is assured of enough votes -- between 30 and 35 GOP senators -- to win the Republican whip position next January. McConnell has had many of these commitments for several months.

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