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Barrasso Wins Key Support for Leadership Post

Backer Coburn Is Influential Among Conservatives

Bill Clark/Roll Call
John Barrasso has not publicly announced an interest in being vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, saying that he is focused on getting more Republicans elected.

Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.) has the endorsement of conservative stalwart Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) to become the next vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference — and that might be the crucial vote he needs to secure the post.

Barrasso on Tuesday declined to discuss his plans to succeed Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) as vice chairman, saying he was focused on doing his job as a Senator and helping to elect more Republicans on Nov. 2. But sources have confirmed Barrasso’s interest, and at least one GOP Senator noted that the first-term Republican has reached out to him in recent days to gauge support for his candidacy.

“He does have my support. I endorsed him,” said Coburn, who has enormous credibility with conservatives both on Capitol Hill and among GOP activists. “We’ve worked together a lot. He’s a real hard-core conservative, and if the position is open, I’m going to support him.”

Barrasso and Coburn, both physicians, have worked closely on health care reform over the past two years and helped lead the Republican opposition to the new law. Barrasso’s work on health care has endeared him to many of his GOP colleagues, and his conservative voting record has positioned him to earn the support of his colleagues for the vice chairmanship once he formally throws his hat into the ring.

The leadership election will occur after November general elections.

The position is open because Murkowski lost her August primary to Fairbanks attorney Joe Miller. Even if she were to stay in the race as a write-in candidate, many Senate Republicans likely would demand that she step down from leadership given her refusal to accept the will of GOP primary voters in her state — and support a challenger if she did not.

Senate Republican leaders have been reluctant to broach the subject of Murkowski’s successor in leadership, preferring to wait for her decision on her future and hoping that she bows out gracefully, saving them from dealing with her ouster. Still, Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander suggested that Barrasso would make a solid addition to the leadership team should a vacancy occur.

“I’m a big fan of John Barrasso,” the Tennessean said. “He’s arrived in the Senate with a lot of spunk and a lot of intelligence. He works hard, he knows the issues and he’s an excellent Senator.”

“I think it’s a little early to be making a judgment” about Murkowski’s successor, Alexander added. “That will be decided in November. But he surely is an excellent candidate. He’s widely respected in our caucus, and I have great respect for him and could work easily with him.”

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