Lott says senators can't win 2008 presidential nomination

Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), one of the most seasoned political observers in Congress, says that even his most ambitious colleagues — including Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) — don’t have the right stuff to win the White House.

The deposed former majority leader said he doesn’t think anyone now serving in the Senate could win the nation’s highest office, even though nearly a dozen senators are considering running for president in 2008.

“I don’t think any senator can win the nomination,” Lott told The Hill in a wide-ranging luncheon interview. “If they get the nomination, they won’t be elected president.” In fact, he said the only way a senator could be elected president is if both parties nominate a senator.

“I don’t think senators make good candidates, actually, because of what we do. If you’re in the Senate for 10 or 15 years, there’s a good chance you’ve voted on both sides of every issue” — something that can be exploited in campaign television ads, as it was to the detriment of the Democrats’ 2004 candidate, Sen. John Kerry, Lott said.

Lott made his comments at a time when Frist and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), and others are considering presidential bids. He said the nominee is likely to be a current or former governor or big-city mayor. He mentioned Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.) and even Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour as possible Republican nominees.

Meanwhile, Lott offered his unwavering support for embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), at a time when other Republicans have voiced concerns about his leadership and ability to lead the GOP conference.

“I’ve been willing to speak up on some things that others might not want to get into,” Lott said, describing his role as a DeLay defender.

Lott knows what it’s like to be the subject of a media storm, having been forced to step down before his presumed election as majority leader in December 2001, after making controversial comments at the late Sen. Strom Thurmond’s (R-S.C.) 100th birthday party.

Lott said he hasn’t called DeLay since DeLay’s troubles became daily front-page material for newspapers. But he observed, “If something is repeated often enough … people get jumpy. Politicians are a very nervous bunch sometimes.”

He noted that during his own unhappy experience, “I apologized repeatedly, and every time I did it, it kept the story alive and made the situation worse.” He said that, in DeLay’s case, “The best strategy is to go at it aggressively, frontally.”

Lott called the charges against DeLay “rehashed” while dismissing press reports about DeLay’s foreign travel and his use of campaign funds to employ his wife and daughter for a number of years.

“It’s not against the rules,” he said. “It’s not illegal. Lots of people do it. Does it look bad? Yeah.”

Lott — who himself traveled to Hawaii with a congressional delegation that included DeLay — defended the benefits of congressional travel. He said his trip to Hawaii was one of the most beneficial he’s taken, and he referred to multiple meetings he held there on airline safety and Commerce Committee maters. Lott chairs the Aviation Subcommittee on Commerce.

Asked about the so-called “nuclear option” on judicial filibusters, Lott said, “I’m really worried. This is a clich