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Cornyn's NRSC Rolls Out Red Carpet for Underdogs

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NRSC Chairman Sen. John Cornyn won’t be making the same mistake twice. This cycle, the Texan is meeting with any GOP Senate candidates in hopes of seeming hospitable and building goodwill. So if any long shots win their primaries, the NRSC will be ready.

Ed Martin, an underdog Senate candidate in Missouri, described his meeting with Cornyn and NRSC officials earlier this month as “very welcoming.” His face time with Cornyn went into overtime in the Texas Republican’s stately first-floor office, NRSC aides held on to his luggage during his other meetings across town and they even let him use the committee’s conference room to make calls throughout the day.

“I don’t know in the past if they got that kind of welcoming thing, but they were nice to me,” said Martin, who is running against former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman in the still-forming GOP primary. “I thought Sen. Cornyn was really interested in me, really interested in the race, how I thought I could compete. ... It was a very pleasant experience. His statement to me was, ‘If you need anything.’”

Last cycle, many former candidates with tea party backing recalled they didn’t exactly receive VIP treatment from the NRSC.

When New Hampshire’s Ovide Lamontagne was planning his bid for Senate last cycle, he met with NRSC officials, including Cornyn, in early July 2009. A few weeks later, Lamontagne was caught by surprise when he was forwarded an invitation to a fundraiser with Cornyn and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) for now-Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.). The NRSC never officially endorsed Ayotte, but after that, it was clear to Lamontagne that the committee’s allegiances were with her.

“It became pretty clear that by mid-July that they were at unofficially backing Kelly, so I didn’t spend a lot of time reaching out to them at that point. It was pretty obviously where they were,” Lamontagne said in a phone interview. “I was very surprised to see that they had gotten involved in our primary, particularly because there was already some blowback for playing in the Florida primary.”

The NRSC infamously backed then-Gov. Charlie Crist for Senate early on in the 2010 cycle — only to have the endorsement backfire when now-Sen. Marco Rubio, a conservative Republican with tea party backing, acquired more Republican support than the sitting GOP governor over the course of the primary.

When Crist announced his candidacy in May 2009, Rubio had just met with officials at the NRSC, where Cornyn told him that the committee would be formally endorsing the sitting governor instead, according to sources familiar with the situation. Rubio and the NRSC had minimal contact until the moderate Republican governor jumped ship to run as an Independent in April 2010.

As early as March 2010, when it was clear Rubio would be the likely victor of the Republican primary, Cornyn said he’d learned his lesson. He told reporters he’d endorsed after former Gov. Jeb Bush opted against a Senate bid and felt that Crist was the best candidate to help the NRSC avoid spending a lot of money.

Ken Buck, the GOP nominee in Colorado last year, recalled he met with Cornyn and top NRSC staff a month or two after he announced his bid — a meeting he described as “pleasant.”

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