Canton Repository

December 21, 2002

Voinovich, DeWine support Frist 

Copley Washington correspondent

WASHINGTON — Ohio Sens. Mike DeWine and George Voinovich have joined a majority of their fellow Republicans in supporting Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to replace Trent Lott as Senate majority leader.

The two were among a small group of senators who had committed to backing Lott despite the Mississippi senator’s remarks that seemed to endorse segregation.

Under fire for comments he made at a birthday celebration for retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond two weeks ago, Lott announced Friday he was giving up the top leadership post in the Senate in an acknowledgment that his effectiveness had been undercut by the furor.

Lott said the nation would have been better off if then-segregationist Thurmond had won the presidency in 1948. The statement raised questions about Lott’s commitment to civil rights.

By midafternoon Friday, Frist, the Senate’s only physician, was reported to have the support of a majority of Republican senators who will elect a new majority leader Jan. 6. Voinovich said he would vote for Frist. Later in the day, DeWine said he intended to back Frist, too.

Frist is “somebody who is a consensus builder but also has an inclusive world view and he (Voinovich) thinks he can do the job,” Voinovich spokesman Scott Milburn said.

DeWine issued a statement saying he has “worked closely with Bill Frist on a number of issues. I have a great deal of respect for him.”

DeWine and Voinovich had condemned Lott’s remarks, which they considered as ill chosen, rather than evidence of Lott being a racist or segregationist.

DeWine expressed sadness that Lott’s “misstatement, which he rightly apologized for, has cost him his leadership position.” Voinovich praised Lott for “stepping down (to) put the good of the country ahead of his own personal priorities.”