Some current and former Republican Senate staffers were surprised by the numbers released by Sen. Trent Lott operatives on Thursday that cited 13 to 15 Republicans committed to supporting him in a new election battle. "Those numbers feel high, but who knows? The information seems to be changing on the hour," says one former Lott staffer now lobbying on K Street.
"If you believe that the current committee chairmen are supporting Lott, and those are guys who think they owe him something, then maybe he has eight or ten, but even that strikes me as too high," says a current Judiciary Committee staffer. "What people have to consider is that these are people telling Lott they support him, but if it comes to a secret ballot, he'll be surprised by the low level of support, I think."
Lott has been daily, sometimes twice a day, calling those colleagues he believes are backing him, keeping them locked down for support. "I'll bet he even calls some of these guys on Christmas," joked the Judiciary staffer.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Frist has finally stepped out of the shadows to give his colleagues some indication of where he is going. The man who ten days ago was looking forward to walking to the point for the Bush Administration on healthcare reform issues and rolling up his sleeves on the Finance Committee, is now fully focused on taking on the mantle of party leader.
Frist began calling colleagues late Wednesday to sound them out on his leadership prospects, this after four or five days of his calling them just to talk about the unfolding disaster.
"We've been waiting for him to just come out and say it," says Senate staffer on the Finance Committee. "He's been holed up his office, so we knew something was going on."
According to several Senate sources, Frist has committed to running, but has not spoken so definitively to the White House about it. The only senator who has is Oklahoma's Don Nickles, who spoke over the weekend with Karl Rove before going on the air to call for Lott to be removed.