Trent Lott, ousted as Republican leader in the Senate four years ago after a racially insensitive comment, was elected to the number-two spot in his party’s Senate leadership on Wednesday.

The remarkable comeback of the affable Mississippian showed Republicans drawn to an experienced leader – and a master of the Senate’s arcane rules – as they reckoned with their losses in last week’s mid-term elections and prepared for life as the minority party.

Bill Frist, Republican majority leader, is retiring from the Senate and Mitch McConnell, his deputy, will take over in January as minority leader. Mr Lott, who won easy re-election to a fourth Senate term last week, will be his party’s whip, after defeating Lamar Alexander by just one vote.

Republicans in the House of Representatives will select their new leadership team tomorrow.

Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House, is not running for a leadership position. John Boehner, the majority leader and leading candidate to become minority leader, argues Republicans must return to good-government principles and a strong legislative agenda, both of which helped them take control of the House in 1994.

His challengers include Mike Pence, an outspoken conservative who is critical of the spending increases that have taken place on the Republicans’ watch, and Joe Barton, a Texan who has focused on how the party leadership should run the House.

Roy Blunt, Republican whip in the House, hopes to hold on to that position. But he faces a tough challenge from John Shadegg, another leading conservative.

In the Senate, Mr Alexander, a former cabinet member, had campaigned for months. But Mr Lott took advantage of the changed electoral landscape to capture the whip’s job.

In the episode that lost him his earlier leadership job – at a 100th birthday party for Strom Thurmond, the legendary South Carolina senator – Mr Lott appeared to endorse the segregationist Dixiecrat ticket on which Mr Thurmond ran for president in 1948.

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