Lott's P.R. Problem

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Trent Lott: In the spotlight

Trent Lott is not having a very happy holiday season. With leading Republicans lining up to denounce his comments at a Strom Thurmond birthday event, the beleaguered Mississippi Senator is facing an uncertain political future. Will he stay on as Senate Majority Leader, as he has repeatedly vowed? Or will his detractors get their way?

Unless he takes matters into his own hands, Lott will have to wait at least until the New Year; Senate Republicans are scheduled to meet January 6 to discuss Lott's stituation.

In the meantime, the American public is forming its own views on Lott; some are sympathetic, but the majority, according to a new CNN/TIME poll, feel Lott's comments make him appear at best irresponsible, and at worst, a racist. Twenty-two percent of the respondents believe Lott's statement was intentionally racist, while 49 percent say it was racist, but not intentionally so. Far more Democrats (33 percent) agreed with the former characterization than Republicans (9 percent), but there was more agreement on the latter option (43 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Republicans). Bad news for Lott: only fourteen percent of respondents say his comment was not racist at all, and 15 percent say they are not sure. The division between the parties is clear: as many Democrats (9 percent) felt the comment was not racist at all as Republicans (9 percent) felt it was intentionally racist.

In a separate question, respondents were asked to compare the views implied in Lott's statement to the views of Senate Republicans as a group. Seventeen percent feel "most" Senate Republicans feel the same way Lott does; 24 percent say "some but not most" agree with him; 32 percent believe "just a few" are in his camp; 9 percent say "none" and 19 percent aren't sure. These responses revealed far less of a gap between party members: 36 percent of Republicans, 36 percent of Independents and 25 percent of Democrats say there are "just a few" Senate Republicans who are in line with what Lott said.

It's hardly the news Lott was looking for, but at least it provides him with a clearer picture of what the voters are thinking — and exactly what risks his presence may present to the Republican Party's image.