While the exactly reason Lott is stepping down before he finishes his term is unknown, the general speculation is that a quick departure immunizes Lott against tougher restrictions in a new lobbying law that takes effect at the end of the year. That law would require Senators to wait two-years before entering the lucrative world of lobbying Congress.That's a hilariously awful reason if true, but it proves that the ethics bill Democrats got passed into law this year worked if people like Lott are fleeing to avoid the new rules.
Anyway, his departure has two ramifications: First, a new Republican whip will have to be elected. The article says Lott is throwing his support behind Jon Kyl of Arizona. Secondly, Mississippi's Gov. Haley Barbour will appoint Lott's replacement, who will serve until the 2008 elections, when voters will elect someone to serve out the balance of Lott's term, which runs through 2012. Rep. Chip Pickering of Mississippi, a former Lott aide who recently announced his retirement from the House, is widely seen as a potential successor.
Being able to appoint a replacement gives the Republicans the advantage, but Democrats actually have a shot if state attorney general Mike Moore runs. Despite the fact that it is a solid red-state, Moore is very popular - winning statewide twice - and had thought about running for Sen. Thad Cochran's seat next year until Cochran decided to run for re-election. Plus, Democrats actually did pretty well in Mississippi state elections earlier this year, taking back the state senate. So this is good news.