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Cornyn Plotting to Rob Peter

As National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) charts his Conference’s course out of the political wilderness, he has narrowed in on two unlikely targets: House Republicans and the National Republican Congressional Committee, run by his Lone Star State colleague Rep. Pete Sessions.

In repeated conversations, Cornyn has revealed his sales pitch for rebuilding a Senate GOP that has sunk to 42 seats at best — a major component of which is telling donors and House Members he is recruiting to run for Senate that investing time and money in the House is an exercise in futility.

“I would love to get a Republican majority in the House, I just don’t think it’s feasible this cycle,” Cornyn said in an interview. “Now, that doesn’t mean they can’t make gains, and certainly they can. But we’re friendly competitors.”

Cornyn is candid that his appeals to GOP campaign contributors include emphasizing that — contrary to the Senate — House parliamentary rules afford the Republican minority virtually no power to obstruct or shape the agenda of President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats. Individual Senators have available to them a powerful set of parliamentary tools regardless of which party holds the majority.

Cornyn already has used this argument to try to recruit House Republicans to run for the Senate.

In describing a conversation with Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), whom Cornyn is trying to lure to run for what will be an open seat in 2010, the NRSC chairman said: “Being in the House right now — and as a Republican — is not a lot of fun. So I think it’s more fun, and you can have a lot of impact being in the Senate right now, so I hope he’ll come join us.”

Castle, Delaware’s at-large Representative for several years, is popular. But the First State has leaned increasingly Democratic since the early 1990s, and Republicans would be hard-pressed to hold Castle’s seat if he retired to run for Senate. Castle is being courted to run for Vice President Joseph Biden’s old seat, now held by Sen. Ted Kaufman (D), who has said he will not run to retain it in 2010.

Cornyn hasn’t set out to create headaches for House Republicans and the NRCC, not to mention Sessions. The Senator finds intriguing the idea of cooperating with the NRCC on messaging — as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did in the 2006 and 2008 cycles — and stresses that he means no ill intent despite the somewhat confrontational nature of his sales pitch.

But in his usual logical, lawyerly style, Cornyn is doing what he believes makes the most sense to accomplish his goal of not just preventing Republican Senate losses in 2010, but also winning seats.

Cornyn’s task doesn’t appear easy. Many of the 18 Democratic seats that are up in 2010 appear safe, which is not the case for the 19 Republican seats.

Privately, political strategists familiar with Cornyn’s approach say he’s playing it smart.

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