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Frist emerges as likely Senate GOP leader

Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, was first elected to the Senate in 1994.
Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, was first elected to the Senate in 1994.

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• Gallery: Reactions
• Profile: Bill Frist
• Timeline: Fall of a Leader
• Timeline: Trent Lott's Career
  • Age 50, elected in 1994
  • Leadership: Outgoing chairman, National Republican Senatorial Committee
  • Committees: Budget; Foreign Relations; and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
  • Key issues: Health care and welfare reform

    Sources: The Almanac Of American Politics; Congressional offices
    Did Sen. Trent Lott do the right thing in stepping down as GOP leader?


    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican with close ties to the White House, won Friday the public support of a majority of his GOP colleagues for the Senate majority leader slot, a development that all but assures he will replace Trent Lott in that post.

    Endorsements for Frist from key GOP senators were announced soon after Lott's statement that he would step down as the Senate Republican leader -- despite his election to that post in November. (More on Lott's announcement)

    By mid-afternoon, Frist had won the public support of 26 Republicans senators, the number of votes needed to elect him majority leader. Other senators, who have not yet announced their support for Frist, told CNN they would vote for Frist. There are 51 Republican senators, and they are scheduled to pick their new leader at a January 6 meeting.

    No other senator has announced a candidacy for the leadership post, and Frist's nascent campaign -- which he only announced as "likely" Thursday night -- took off once Lott announced he was stepping aside.

    The most significant endorsement came Friday morning from Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who had defended Lott during the furor over the Mississippi Republican's comments that were seen by many people as endorsing segregation. McConnell had also been seen as a possible successor to Lott.

    McConnell, who will hold the second-most powerful Senate Republican position in the new Congress, praised Frist as "the right man at the right time to help our party."

    Similar sentiments were expressed by other Republican senators, including John Warner and George Allen of Virginia, Christopher Bond and Jim Talent of Missouri, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and incoming Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.

    Dole noted Frist's recent work at the National Republican Senate Committee, where, as chairman, he recruited candidates and helped raise money for the party. Republicans made significant gains Election Day, recapturing a majority in the Senate.

    "He will be a compassionate and effective majority leader," Dole predicted.

    A surgeon by training, Frist was elected to the Senate in 1994 and quickly made a name for himself as an articulate and knowledgeable spokesman on health legislation -- important for Republicans during the debates on medical insurance.

    Also endorsing Frist on Friday was Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, who last weekend had called for a new leadership vote and had been seen by some people as coveting the majority leader post.

    "I was one of many who encouraged Bill Frist to run for majority leader and I support him 100 percent," Nickles said in a written statement. "I look forward to working with him to enact the president's agenda of freedom and opportunity for all Americans."

    Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado said Republicans need to be united in their choice.

    "Two or three others are interested in running, but we need to move forward. I don't need another fight. I'm going to support Bill (Frist)."

    Campbell, who is a Native American, noted that Frist put in place a senatorial program during midterms for minority outreach. He called Frist a "bright guy."

    Frist is a member of the Budget; Foreign Relations; and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees.

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