Garrulous Lott Is A Noisy Standout in Staid Senate LEADERSHIP SHIFT Series: Sen. Trent Lott (R) of Mississippi Is Expected to Assume the Post of Majority Leader, Vacated by Presidential Aspirant Bob Dole., JOHN DURICKA/AP

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As Trent Lott chats with reporters outside the Senate chamber, a mischievous grin crosses his face. "Be right back," he says.

Without making a sound, the Mississippi Republican sidles up behind his long-time friend and colleague, Florida Sen. Connie Mack (R) and gives his left ear lobe a playful yank.

"Gotcha!" he quips.

The moment reveals much about Mr. Lott, the man who will likely replace Bob Dole today as Senate majority leader. Gregarious and good-humored, Lott cultivates informal friendships with fellow lawmakers in a way Mr. Dole never would.

But Lott's garrulousness is only part of the picture. Colleagues also know him as an ambitious, persistent, and shrewd politician who mines every waking moment for political advantage.

His nearly certain victory today over fellow Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran (R) in the leadership contest marks the ascent of a new generation of senators: young turks who came of age in the House of Representatives and prefer its confrontational style.

If anything, Lott's tenure as Senate majority leader could turn up the volume in a chamber long modulated by courtliness and reserve.

"Trent Lott is a true conservative," says Texas Sen. Phil Gramm (R). "If he has to keep the Senate open all night or all weekend for something we're right about, he'll do it."

Mr. Gramm's assessment is shared by Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone (D), who suggests that Lott's election could add to "what is already a significant amount of polarization."

Indeed, Lott seems to enjoy using the Senate rostrum for political flamethrowing. Last week, when President Clinton's lawyers tried to block a sexual harassment suit against the president by invoking his "active duty" military status, Lott pounced.

"That was a defining moment for Trent," says Senate minority leader Tom Daschle (D) of South Dakota. "It's this kind of hands-on, take-charge attitude I think we'll see a lot more of."

Within the Republican conference, Lott's brazen style has drawn alternative jabs and praise. To many Republicans, like Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), Lott's "great rapport with the House" is an asset in advancing Republican goals.

Others, however, especially long-time GOP moderates, say he lacks the kind of clout enjoyed by more-senior members like Dole, and frown upon his thirst for conflict. This generation gap became apparent during last year's bitter race for majority whip, when Lott defeated Dole's choice, veteran Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson (R), by one vote.

Even Dole, in a lukewarm assessment, places Lott firmly in the other chamber. "Trent's been a good whip," Dole told the Monitor. "He knows his place. He knows the House."

Yet most Republicans, ranging from younger conservatives like Michigan Sen. Spencer Abraham to moderates like Maine's Sen. Olympia Snowe, describe Lott as inclusive and pragmatic. "He's a master of the soft sell," says Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Even some Democrats offer plaudits. Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina hails Lott's role in crafting this year's bipartisan telecommunications bill. And Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey suggests Lott might be easier to work with than his predecessor.

"Bob Dole has this steely image," Mr. Kerrey says. "If you go up to ask him a question, you almost feel like you're bothering him. Trent's much more approachable."

Most members attribute Lott's success in the insular world of the Senate to his tireless legwork on the floor, where he buzzes around with "the list" - a pocket-sized card bearing the initials of every senator and his or her positions on pending bills. "Trent loves to count votes," says Sen. …