From NBC's Ken Strickland
Republican senators say that Trent Lott narrowly won the No. 2 spot in the Senate GOP leadership because of his vast experience as a former majority leader. One GOP senator said the results of the midterm elections played a role. By falling into the minority status, the senator said, it puts Republicans in more of a reactive position where experience is critical. This senator cited Lott's negotiating and tactical skills as well as his "deep understanding of the [Senate] rules," which are key to moving or blocking legislation. And then there are "the deep personal relationships" Lott developed with members over the years.
Just yesterday, the man Lott defeated for the post -- Lamar Alexander -- claimed that he had the commitments of support from more than half of the Republican caucus. So what happened? One theory expressed by a senator is that many people may have promised Alexander their support while he was running against Rick Santorum (who lost his reelection bid last week.) Lott didn't officially enter the race until two days ago. And equally important, the voting is done by secret ballot.