Sen. John Cornyn volunteered for a second consecutive tour of duty as National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman to finish the job of reclaiming a GOP majority in 2012.
In a 30-minute interview with Roll Call Thursday, the Texas Republican declined to predict the outcome of elections 23 months away. But he made clear only one result is acceptable heading into a cycle that has a favorable map for the GOP.
Cornyn said it would be a “disappointment” if Senate Republicans are still in the minority in 2013. “I think we’ve got very good opportunities for pickups in ’12, and another reason I decided to stay on was I think we have an opportunity to turn the corner and get in the majority,” he said.
The 2012 map features 23 Democratic-held seats, many in Republican-leaning states or in territory that could be favorable to the GOP based on 2010 results. These battlegrounds include Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio and Virginia. Only 10 Republican seats are up in 2012, and most are considered safe for the party.
Cornyn plans a few key adjustments in strategy heading into the next cycle, although his blueprint calls mostly for refining and building on Republicans’ seven-seat net gain in 2010, a number that includes the special election win in Massachusetts. In particular, Cornyn intends to further involve his GOP colleagues in the candidate recruitment process to prevent Conference infighting and a rash of divisive primaries that in some cases resulted in weak general election candidates this year.
Cornyn acknowledged learning the lesson of having candidates deemed as the national party pick in a cycle marked by the rise of the tea party. Candidates initially recruited and touted by the NRSC who never became the party’s nominee included most notably Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, but also Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, former Colorado Lt. Gov. Jane Norton and former Nevada GOP Chairman Sue Lowden.
“It’s not necessarily an advantage for a candidate, particularly in a contested primary, to be known as the person recruited by a national committee. I think we need to be conscious of that,” he said.
Sen. Jim DeMint, who endorsed several candidates in GOP primaries perceived as more conservative, said he expects better cooperation in the 2012 cycle and that Cornyn will show more deference in the candidates he recruits and more subtlety in how he attempts to influence primaries.
But the South Carolina Republican also appears to share the NRSC chairman’s philosophy on recruiting electable candidates.
DeMint raised $5.6 million for Republican Senate candidates during the 2010 cycle through his Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee and plans to build on that effort over the next two years.
“We want to make sure we get not only conservatives, but people who can run a good campaign and know what they’re doing,” DeMint said. “I think we’re going to work much better together and I would be surprised if we ended up on different pages here, just because I don’t think they’re going to be as likely to pick a candidate early in a race.”