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Sources: Nickles won't challenge Lott

Oklahoma Senator eyes budget committee

From Dana Bash and Jonathan Karl
CNN Washington


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate's No. 2 Republican, Oklahoma Sen. Don Nickles, will not challenge Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott for the top GOP leadership job in the Senate next year, sources tell CNN.

The announcement ends months of speculation that Nickles, who under GOP rules cannot seek another term as minority whip, would run against Lott after the November election.

"Senator Nickles and Senator Lott have talked, and it's Senator Nickles' expectation that he will be budget chairman next year," said Brook Simmons, Nickles' spokesman.

The man who currently holds the top Republican spot on the Senate Budget Committee, New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, will also have to step down because of GOP-imposed term limits.

Nickles' would only take over as budget chairman if Republicans take control of the Senate in the November election. Democrats currently cling to control by a single vote.

The speculation that Nickles would challenge Lott, and reports that Nickles had been privately starting to line up votes, caused tension in the leadership ranks, particularly between the offices of the two senators, GOP leadership aides told CNN.

Republican leadership elections in the Senate will be held November 13, and a source close to Nickles told CNN he decided to announce his intentions now to "take the speculation out of it."

"We want to organize quickly, and there's no need to agonize over this. So it was best to get it done and out there now," the source said.

Nickles, first elected in 1980, is currently in his fourth term in the Senate. Lott, a Mississippian elected to the Senate in 1988, has been Senate GOP leader since 1996.

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