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They have seized committee gavels and newfound political clout, but the flurry of promotions within the new Republican House majority could complicate the GOP’s plans to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats in 2012.
From New York to Ohio to Wisconsin, would-be Republican Senate candidates might prefer to hold on to new leadership posts rather than run for statewide office in the next cycle, a process that has already begun in some states.
New York Republicans have long pushed Rep. Peter King to run for the Senate, but the 10-term Member told Roll Call that he’s thrilled with his new role as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
“Since Sept. 12, 2001, homeland security has been my absolute focus, almost an obsession,” King said, acknowledging speculation that he will challenge Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) in 2012. “Homeland security is going to be 24-7 for me. Maybe in a year or so things could change, but right now — and I’m not being cute — I really don’t expect it.”
It’s a similar story for Rep. Charlie Dent, the Pennsylvania Republican recently assigned to the Appropriations Committee, a position he has been actively seeking since before the 2008 elections.
“I basically developed a two-year strategy. I let people know I was interested,” he said in an interview. “Clearly, the real power of Congress is the power of the purse. Being on Appropriations puts me in the middle of that. ... It’s one of the few places in Congress you can touch public policy in so many places.”
Dent says he’s been encouraged to challenge Sen. Bob Casey (D) in 2012 but suggested he’s content to hold on to his new committee assignment.
“One never rules anything out,” he said. But “at the same time I haven’t been actively pursuing it.”
Some Republicans warn it’s far too early to predict whether House shifts will shape the 2012 Senate electoral landscape, although it’s clear that every seat counts. Democrats hold 53 seats, including two Independents who caucus with them, compared with 47 seats for Republicans.
“I would concede that at first glance, early on, in a couple of states it might not be helpful,” one Republican campaign strategist said of the House committee promotions.
The strategist singled out Wisconsin as perhaps the most painful example, where some hoped that Rep. Paul Ryan (R) would challenge 75-year-old Sen. Herb Kohl (D), considered vulnerable amid speculation that he might not seek a fifth term in 2012.
But Ryan is the newly minted Budget chairman. And given House Republicans’ focus on spending cuts, it’s likely that he will be busy in the new Congress.