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Cornyn Presses Colleagues to Fund NRSC

Tom Williams/Roll Call
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn is urging Senate Republicans to transfer money to the NRSC.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) is breaking with his own policy and urging GOP Members to contribute to the committee, recognizing that money could make the difference in the races for a dozen Democratic-held seats that now qualify as legitimate pickup opportunities.

Cornyn’s efforts were boosted Wednesday when Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and John McCain (Ariz.) announced to their GOP colleagues commitments to transfer $1 million each in personal campaign funds to the NRSC.

Cornyn said at the outset of the midterm cycle that he would not ask Republican Senators for transfers, given its historical futility. But with the 10 seats needed to retake the Senate majority within reach — however unlikely — the NRSC chairman has pivoted.

“What we intend to try to do is use this as a good example for others to search their souls and perhaps follow,” Cornyn said, of the Coburn and McCain transfers. “Getting here toward the end, where we have so many races in play, where resources are going to be so critical, I’m going to be encouraging my colleagues to do everything they humanly can, including making transfers.”

“It’s one thing we’re missing now: It’s money for our candidates. That’s what they need more than anything else,” McCain said. Coburn said plainly that he committed to the transfer to help the NRSC win seats. Also Wednesday, House Republicans — who have never been shy about donating to the National Republican Congressional Committee — committed an additional $4.4 million to the NRCC in a Member transfer drive instigated by House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio).

Both Coburn and McCain are up for re-election this year, but neither is facing a competitive general election race, freeing up the money. Meanwhile, the NRSC in September received transfers of $100,000 each from Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.).

Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) also transferred money and has committed to giving more out of his re-election account in October, according to Republican sources.

Cornyn anticipates more Member transfers in October, and GOP Senators optimistic about the Nov. 2 elections appear to be in a more generous mood than in 2006 and 2008, when Republicans lost a total of 14 seats. Senate GOP Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) said he expects Republicans to be helpful to the NRSC during the remaining four weeks of the fall campaign.

“I think every Senator is doing in their own way what they can to help the team. For some people that means making direct transfers,” said Thune, who has traveled extensively since August to help raise money for the NRSC and GOP House and Senate candidates. “I suspect you may see active efforts now that we’re out of session — particularly for Senators that are not in cycle.”

Despite the $2 million infusion from Coburn and McCain, the NRSC still lags behind the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee significantly in Member giving. The DSCC brought in $7.4 million last month, compared with the NRSC’s $6 million.

But that included a $1 million transfer from Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) — his second $1 million transfer of the 2010 cycle. The DSCC declined to reveal any Member transfers that might have been received in September. The NRSC finished August with $1.6 million more in cash on hand than the DSCC.

Buoyed by a favorable political atmosphere and an opportunity to return to political relevance, Republicans have slowly opened their wallets to the NRSC and provided the committee with their time after years of rebuffing pleas by previous chairmen to fund the organization and help it keep pace with the DSCC. Cornyn decided upon assuming the NRSC chairmanship not to badger GOP Members for transfers but rather to ask them to aide the committee in other ways.

The competitive Republican takeover targets include seats held by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray (Wash.); seats in Illinois and Delaware previously occupied by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden; and a mixture of open and incumbent-held seats in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is personally and professionally close with McCain, said his colleague was motivated to contribute to the NRSC by a desire to return Republicans to political relevancy in the Senate. Graham said that McCain shares frustrations with how the GOP got rolled on the health care reform bill and other major legislation because it simply lacked numbers and that he wants to do something about it by helping the NRSC fund races.

“He is now John Cornyn’s favorite person,” Graham quipped, adding seriously: “I think it speaks strongly of John’s commitment to bring balance back to the Senate. I think John is very disappointed in the direction the Democratic leadership and President Obama’s taken the country and we’re in a stage now where we can bring balance back. We’re competitive in races no one dreamed of.”

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