National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn is taking great pains to stay out of his home state’s Senate primary. Other than granting informational meetings to some of the candidates vying to win the seat held by retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republicans monitoring the primary agree that Cornyn has avoided taking any action that could be interpreted as manipulating or playing favorites — either personally or through surrogates.
Even Cornyn’s chief Texas consultant, Todd Olsen, is staying out of the race — at least for now. Olsen is a longtime adviser to primary candidate Michael Williams but is conspicuously absent from his Senate campaign team. However, Cornyn, Olsen and the Senator’s Texas finance team of major campaign contributors — which includes NRSC Finance Chairman John Nau, a wealthy Houston businessman —are far from absent in Texas politics.
Cornyn described his hands-off approach in Texas, where he might have been expected to play a key role given his NRSC chairmanship and success in multiple statewide races, as well as his work behind the scenes to increase the GOP majority in the Texas House of Representatives.
“It’s a little unique because no matter who wins the nomination, a Republican is going to hold the seat, so I’m not particularly anxious about who that person is. And the practical reality is, all of these people are my friends who I’ve worked with and who’ve supported elections,” Cornyn told Roll Call. “I just think it would be unseemly and inappropriate for me to get involved in that primary.”
But he was plenty involved at the state level.
“I was very concerned that the state Legislature — the House particularly, which was hanging on by a thread, I think a single-vote majority initially — that that wasn’t being paid enough attention to,” Cornyn said. “We had a good election, and that was important going forward in the redistricting process and the fact that Texas is going to get four new Congressional seats and drawing those lines.”
Cornyn indicated Olsen had declined to work for Williams as a part of the extra effort the NRSC chairman has made to ensure that his neutrality in the contest is unquestionable, although the Senator said it was ultimately Olsen’s decision. Corbin Casteel, a consultant for Williams, a Texas railroad commissioner, declined to discuss Olsen’s non-role in the campaign, but he confirmed the widely held view that Cornyn was not taking sides.
“From everything that I’ve seen, he does appear to be staying neutral,” Casteel said.
During the 2010 election cycle, Cornyn and his team were instrumental in laying the foundation for the huge gains that Republicans achieved in November’s legislative races through their overhaul of Associated Republicans of Texas, a formerly powerful state political action committee that had atrophied. Cornyn became involved in ART partly out of a concern that Republicans could lose their slim state House majority, and with it, their ability to dictate redistricting.
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