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Senate Republicans on Wednesday chose Mississippian Trent Lott as majority leader to succeed the just-retired Bob Dole, opting for a more aggressive and conservative politician to run the Senate during a heated election year.

A genial, if brashly ambitious man, Lott was among the last of the Senate Republicans to endorse Dole's presidential candidacy. And as majority whip - the Republican's No. 2 office - he had none-too-subtly coveted the majority leadership post long before Dole announced last month that he would quit the Senate to campaign full time.Senate GOP aides said Republi

can senators elected Lott, 44-8, over fellow Mississippian Thad Cochran, a more reserved and courtly man who is equally conservative politically.

Dole called Lott to offer his congratulations, said Lott's spokeswoman, Susan Irby. She said Lott made phone calls to family members to relay the news, including his 82-year-old mother, Iona, in Pascagoula, Miss.

Thanking Republicans for their support, Lott said at a news conference: "I thought this morning, as I was watching the Olympic torch being passed from one hand to another, that that is what is happening in the Senate today. The torch has been passed, but the flame is the same."

"Our agenda will be the same as Bob Dole laid out for us," he said. "We do want to control the size and scope of government. We do want to control the rate of growth of government, reaching a balanced budget by the year 2002. And we do want to provide tax relief for families with children."

In other party leadership posts:

- Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma was approved by acclamation to succeed Lott as majority whip. Nickles has been policy chairman.

- Cochran was retained without a vote as conference chairman. Sen. Connie Mack of Florida was likewise retained as conference secretary.

- Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho won the only other contested race, succeeding Nickles as policy chairman. Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana said the first ballot was Craig 26, Coats 19, Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah 8. In the runoff, Craig beat Coats, 30-22.

Bennett said he wasn't surprised he lost because his two opponents had already committed most senators' votes before he entered the race. But he said it lays the groundwork for another possible future run for a leadership spot.

"I think I've set down a marker for my colleagues that I am interested in a leadership position sometime in the future, and don't be so quick to commit next time because I'll likely be there," he said.

In choosing their first new Republican leader since 1985, the senators said they were looking for a pragmatist who could get work done.

"Trent is a more aggressive person, perhaps he's a little less compromising" than Dole, said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a freshman who said he supported Lott.

But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said, "Lott's very pragmatic, and I think he'll bring Republicans together."

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said the new Republican leadership should heed Dole's message that a bipartisan effort is needed to pass legislation.

"The Republicans have to decide whether they want to have political positions or legislative accomplishments," he said. "Trent Lott has demonstrated in the past an ability to show some leadership in finding compromise and I expect that he will do so again."