Washington Prowler

Lottomania

How to remove Trent Lott but retain the Senate. PLUS: Al Gore's real reason for quitting.

By 12.15.02

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WHY HE QUIT
Al Gore can say all he wants that his family was the deciding factor in his decision not to run in 2004, but the real reason, say Democratic sources, was money.

Gore's fundraising had virtually dried up in the past couple of months and, according to these sources, Gore's strongest backers did not appear to be receptive to another run. "We were hearing that he was telling his longtime supporters about his plans and he wasn't hearing what he wanted. He wasn't hearing, 'Good Al, you go get 'em.' That bothered him," says a former Gore adviser.

Further complicating matters was the failure of his books to catch fire. While the media were receptive to his appearances, which seemingly went well, the lack of sales in the face of the media blitz served to reinforce Gore's own impression that he just wasn't getting any traction with his ideas.

"He was also concerned about just the range of issues with a campaign. He's lost a lot of people to other potential candidates. He didn't really have an organization in place in New Hampshire while at least three other Democrats seemed to have them standing by," says a Democratic National Committee staffer. "I think if he looks back, he's going to see that he shouldn't have waited until December to make a decision [about running]. He should have sent a clearer message sooner to his people."

A VOTE TRUMPS RESIGNATION
Republican Senators in Washington and around the country had mixed feelings about the Friday evening press conference by their leader Trent Lott. While some appreciated the effort he put forth to make a verbal amends, others weren't satisfied. In conference calls during and after the Mississippi address, according to a number of Senate aides, their bosses evaluated their options.

"It was clear that Lott was simply stalling for time. That's the game right now," says a Senate staffer in Washington. "He's trying to play out the string, get to whatever day his Black Entertainment interview might occur, and hope something else replaces this story in the headlines."

But that's probably not going to happen, if some Senators have their way. Last Thursday and Friday, members of the Republican Senate leadership were mapping out how best to approach Lott so that he would be willing to step aside as leader but remain in the Senate to ensure GOP control. (Mississippi has a Democratic governor who presumably would appoint a Democrat to replace Lott should Lott resign from the Senate.)

Lott's taking full leave of Capitol Hill was actually raised by Lott himself in a Thursday evening call to the White House, according to one White House source: "Lott wasn't making demands, but was clear that at that point, his mind was set on either remaining as leader or resigning from the Senate and losing the majority. There was no half-deal to be struck."

But White House congressional liaison Nick Calio has suggested to Karl Rove that Lott does not want to go down in Republican lore as a man who lost the majority for the party twice, and that Lott can probably find a satisfactory way to stay on without being leader.

Over the weekend, it was determined by Senate Republicans that the best way to approach a Lott removal was by calling for a new round of elections for leadership positions. Lott had made a point of calling for early caucus elections after the November general elections, in part to avoid a challenge from the likes of Sens. Don Nickles or Mitch McConnell.

"Lott is trying to avoid a caucus meeting, a caucus vote at all cost," says a senior Senate leadership staffer. "He knows that if the caucus gets together, all that's required is a motion and several seconds from the floor and a new round of votes could occur."

Yet being removed as leader by colleagues in a new vote would allow Lott to save face in a way that resigning under pressure would not. It would free him to remain in the Senate and not jeopardize the GOP's majority position.

The caucus game plan appeared to play out on Sunday, as Nickles called for new elections and several other Republicans seemed to indicate they would be supportive of that.

"Now it's just wait and see," says the leadership staffer. "But it's clear that Lott's mea culpas just aren't enough now."

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