Senator Lott to Resign by end of year (updated)

Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) has told close advisors that he plans to retire from the Senate by the end of the year:

NBC News has learned that Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the minority whip is in the midst of informing close allies that he plans to resign his senate seat before the end of the year. It's possible a formal announcement of his plans could take place as early as today.

Lott's office initially denied that he he would step down, but subsequent requests for information about his plans went unanswered.

While the exactly reason Lott is stepping down before he finishes his term is unknown, the general speculation is that a quick departure immunizes Lott against tougher restrictions in a new lobbying law that takes effect at the end of the year. That law would require Senators to wait two-years before entering the lucrative world of lobbying Congress.
The reason given by NBC makes sense. Few members of Congress were closer to the lobbying community than Lott. Any post-Senate career choice for him almost certainly would have been as a high powered lobbyist.

Lott's connections in Washington will no doubt make him a rich man. Meanwhile, Mississippi is still one of the most reliable Republican states so the special election that would be held next year to fill the vacancy created by his retirement will almost certainly go to a Republican.

Lott is the Minority Whip in the Senate and speculation about his replacement
has already begun:
Lott's departure opens up a position within Republican leadership, and there could be a fight to replace him. Lamar Alexander, who ran for the position last year, would be a natural candidate, but there are plenty of GOP up-and-comers who could compete for the slot, including Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who are part of the current leadership team and could be looking for a promotion to the no. 2 spot in the hierarchy.
Lott has been in Congress 34 years and was elected to the Senate in 1988.

Update: Ed Lasky adds:

Maybe he will join his brother-in-law's law firm (Richard Scruggs) and reap millions of dollars from class action settlements. He certainly has a bent against insurance companies stemming from disputes over coverage of damages from Katrina.

Richard Baehr adds:

This is very bad news for  the GOP. Democrats can win the seat with the former attorney general,  Michael  Moore, who is a young, popular figure in the state, who made billions for Scruggs and other trial lawyers (who would fund his campaign), and  suing and then settling with big tobacco. Mississippi was one of the three states  that got the whole tobacco shakedown going, glamorized in a movie with Russell Crowe as the whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand, silenced by CBS.  Another possible Democratic candidate: author John Grisham, who lives part of the year Oxford.