Robert Novak

 "The hurricane is what has made this decision difficult for me," Lott told me. On the one hand, "the performance by the administration has been poor and the Congress has not been a lot better." On the other hand, "my people need all the help I can give them." Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has pointed to Lott's role in guiding the Katrina tax relief package through the Senate, declaring: "This shows why Mississippi and the country need Trent Lott to be re-elected next year."

 Lott wonders what his senatorial role would be beginning his fourth term at age 65 without a leadership position or significant committee chairmanship. Sen. John McCain has urged Lott to return as leader of Senate Republicans (succeeding Sen. Bill Frist, who is leaving the Senate). But that would require an aggressive campaign against Majority Whip Mitch McConnell that Lott is not inclined to pursue.

 Mississippi Republicans are so anxious about a Lott-less election next year partly because Democrat Moore is a better known, more appealing figure in the state than Republican Pickering. The state's big African-American minority continues to increase, and politically potent trial lawyers will be unrestrained on behalf of Moore. Finally, the performance by the Republican-controlled national government in coping with Katrina is no asset for Republican candidates in Mississippi.

 When George W. stood aside while Trent Lott was tossed out, I wrote on Dec. 23, 2002, that the secret liberal theme behind his defenestration was that "the GOP's Southern base, the bedrock of its national election victories, is an illegitimate legacy from racist Dixiecrats." Now, three years later, that bedrock may be eroding.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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