- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 4, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Wednesday that he will vote for Donald Trump for president, though he acknowledged he didn’t expect the New York businessman to win the Republican nomination.

“Trump just sucked all the oxygen out of 16 opponents,” Lott said before making a speech at the Old Capitol Museum in Jackson.

Lott was in the U.S. House 16 years before serving in the Senate from 1989 to 2007. He originally supported Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of his former congressional colleagues.

With Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kasich leaving the race, other prominent Mississippi Republicans, including Gov. Phil Bryant and party chairman Joe Nosef, are also lining up for Trump.

“Thankfully, we have avoided potentially divisive state and national conventions that could have made unity and victory in November nearly impossible,” Nosef said in a statement.

Bryant endorsed Cruz before the Mississippi primary in March, but he said in a statement late Tuesday that he will support Trump to try to block Hillary Clinton from becoming president. Clinton, a former New York senator and former secretary of state, is still competing with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination.

“As a conservative, I will find common cause in this election because the possibility of a Clinton victory is unacceptable,” Bryant said.

In a statement that doesn’t mention Trump’s name, Sen. Thad Cochran said: “I will support our presidential nominee because electing Republicans, from the president to the local level, is the best way to promote our principles: individual liberty, strong national defense, secure borders and effective governance.”

Cindy Phillips of Madison, a former Republican National Committeewoman, had supported Kasich but said she will vote for Trump: “He might be the kick in the pants the country needs.”

State Sen. Chris McDaniel of Ellisville unsuccessfully challenged Cochran in a contentious 2014 GOP primary and was the Cruz chairman in Mississippi. He said he will support Trump, although he has not agreed with all of Trump’s positions. McDaniel said the Trump and Cruz campaigns were like “two sides to the same coin,” and were “a reaction to an establishment that we insist has to be changed.”

Lott said both major political parties overlooked Americans’ concerns about job security, immigration and other issues.

“The Republicans and Democrats, if they go, ‘Well, it’s over, Hillary’s going to be president’ - better not underestimate the appeal of Donald Trump,” Lott said. “He’s going to cause, I think, a massive turnout of a lot of people that don’t usually vote, and there are going to be a lot of independents and Democrats that are going to vote for him.”

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .

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