Lott's early exit casts a shadow on an extraordinary congressional career. Elected to Congress in 1972 at age 31 as a defender of Richard M. Nixon, he voted for impeachment as a Judiciary Committee member when faced with the evidence. He was the House's second-ranking Republican at age 39, won the same job in the Senate 14 years later, as 1984 Republican platform chairman shaped a supply-side document in defiance of the White House staff design and served six years as the most effective Republican Senate majority leader of his time.
Driven out of the leadership in 2002 when President George W. Bush would not stand by him against spurious charges of racism, Lott instead of resigning picked himself up and became an effective backbencher. Against all expectations, he returned to the leadership after the 2006 election by winning a hotly contested campaign for Republican whip.
When Lott in 2005 was pondering whether to run again, he expressed concern about taking on another six-year commitment -- not one year. At this week's conference in Pascagoula, Miss., Lott hurt his credibility by saying the new two-year ban "didn't have a big role" in his decision. "And," he added, "as I've talked to my former colleagues, they say that a lot of what you do anyway is involved with consulting rather than direct lobbying." But Lott will have to do more than consult to earn the big bucks that have led him out of the Senate.