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Larry King Interviews Trent Lott

Aired November 5, 2002 - 05:52   ET


LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: In January will your title change?
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: I believe it will. I believe my title then will be majority leader of the United States Senate, one that hopefully I can use to the benefit of the American people working with this president instead of having a body that has just been non-productive over the past year.

KING: What will be the key races that'll make that happen for you?

LOTT: It's the obvious ones, Larry. Missouri with Jim Talent against Jean Carnahan; Minnesota with Norm Coleman, of course; John Thune in South Dakota. And, of course, it's essential that we hold those open seats like Elizabeth Dole in North Carolina, and Lindsay Graham in South Carolina and, of course, Tennessee. They're all important.

Obviously, Wayne Allard in Colorado, and Texas also would be very important.

Georgia is going to be, I think, the surprise of the night. Saxby Chambliss could very well win in that state, and that would be a huge upset.

KING: Defeating Max Cleland?

LOTT: I think it's very possible. He has run a really good campaign. His campaign has shown more momentum, more movement over the past two weeks than probably any other campaign in the country.

KING: What do you make over the fact we just learned this afternoon from Jeff Greenfield that the Voter News Service will not be in service tonight; there'll be no exit polling?

LOTT: Well, if they're not accurate I'm glad they went ahead and announced it. And people will not be alarmed by it or misinformed by it.

LOTT: I'd actually gotten about three or four reports already, Larry. And in some instances I liked what I was seeing, and others I didn't.

But we found out in 2000 they can be misleading. And if it's not scientifically accurate, they should dispense with it and try to come up with a better system for the future. KING: We're going to have an interim senator in Minnesota until January. He is independent Dean Barkley. And the understanding is you've already spoken to him. Is that true? And if so, what about?

LOTT: Well, the courteous thing to do was to call and congratulate him on being accepted -- or nominated. And he will, of course, be sworn in in the Senate. Welcome him to the Senate and see if there's anything I could do to work with him.

Obviously I'd like to see him sit with the Republicans and allow us to move some important legislation, hopefully maybe even Homeland Security Department as well as some nominations and port security. There's some things we could do during this lame duck session.

But basically I was just calling him to congratulate him and offer my assistance wherever I could help.

KING: Did he give you any indication as to how he might vote?

LOTT: No, you know, we talked a little bit about his background. And I had already studied it, quite frankly. I knew he had some business experience. I understand he's been a good policy and planning director for the state of Minnesota. I've talked to Governor Ventura since I was there for the memorial services for Paul Wellstone and I didn't know he was going to go with Dean Barkley. But I think he'll be somebody we can work with.

And it may not be a long session. We may only be here one or two weeks. I hope that's the case. So it won't make a huge difference. But obviously it could make some difference. And I'd like to be in a position to call up legislation as majority leader during that interim period.

KING: Are you nervous? I mean, what goes through a minority leader who may be the majority leader who's looking at races that are rated close?

LOTT: Well, Larry, I guess I've been through enough of them over the years now, having been in Congress for 30 years, that I don't get too carried away Election Day.

I know that a lot of things can happen, turnout, weather, you know, who does the best job in the last few hours of a campaign. And I suspect, Larry, we won't know who's going to be in control of the Senate for, until tomorrow morning, maybe even for days.

And it could actually be a month because, if Mary Landrieu in Louisiana doesn't get 50 percent of the vote, then we would not know for a month who would be the winner in Louisiana.

KING: The turnout has been, what? I mean, Minnesota reporting a pretty good turnout, but generally forecasts are under 40 percent. Why?

LOTT: I think it will vary, Larry, from state to state and election to election. I think maybe we make too much of that sometime.

Nationwide, you know, there are a lot of states that don't have really key races this year. In my state of Mississippi Thad Cochran doesn't even have a Democratic opponent. So we're not going to have a huge turnout in that state; we only have one contested congressional race.

In other states like, Minnesota, they traditionally have pretty high turnout. I think I've seen their turnout as high as 82 percent, I suspect it'll probably be in the 60s or 70s in Minnesota.

Other races where you got a key race will probably be higher than that, but then when you average it out nationwide, unfortunately it's still probably going to be too low.

Maybe it's because we don't give them enough defining issues to really get excited about. Maybe it's the times, Larry. People after 9/11, you know, with the economy not doing as good as we'd like for it to do but showing some recovery signs, there's just not a huge driving issue to get people to go out and vote.

KING: Thank you as always, Senator Lott. We'll be calling on you again.

LOTT: Appreciate the job you do, Larry.

KING: Thank you.


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