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.
Cornyn recruited Dallas businessman George Seay, a Republican donor and activist, to run ART along with a board of directors that has also been helpful to the NRSC chairman over the years. The PAC recruited candidates and raised about $3.5 million, much of which was plowed back into legislative races. The Republicans flipped 22 state House seats on Nov. 2, giving them a strong edge in any redistricting battle with Democrats.
Cornyn plans to remain active in Texas politics at this level, and Olsen said the plan is to expand ART’s effect on the 2012 elections.
“Last cycle was the warm-up,” Olsen said. “Now comes the real challenge.”
This year Cornyn is trying to avoid intervening in Senate primaries across the country because doing so could spark GOP infighting or damaging candidates with the Washington label. That’s what happened during the 2010 cycle, when Cornyn had clear, if unofficial, favorites in several primaries. That stoked divisions within the party and among Members on Capitol Hill over disagreements about candidate recruitment. Additionally, some Senate candidates suffered in GOP primaries because of the perception that the Republican establishment anointed them. Republicans believe that divisive primaries cost them at least three seats last fall.
Cornyn made it clear that he would stay out of the Lone Star State’s Senate race until a nominee emerges from the March 2012 GOP primary. In Texas, the two top vote-getters in a primary advance to a runoff unless the winner surpasses 50 percent.
The crowded primary field in Texas features a cast of longtime friends and political associates, just about all of whom are familiar with each other — and many of whom have supported Cornyn’s multiple statewide races for Senate, attorney general and state Supreme Court justice.
Among the active candidates and potential candidates are Williams; attorney Ted Cruz, who worked for Cornyn in the state attorney general’s office; Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; state Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones; former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert; and former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams, who served as chairman of the Lone Star State’s get-out-the-vote Victory Committee in 2008, when Cornyn was last on the ballot. (However, a right-leaning blogger noticed recently that Cornyn retweeted a tweet from Leppert.)
Cornyn said he has met with some of the candidates, including Dewhurst, Roger Williams, Cruz and Leppert, and is happy to talk to any candidate and offer the NRSC as a resource for advice on logistics, such as hiring campaign staff and consultant recommendations. But that will be the extent of Cornyn’s participation in the primary, he said.
Olsen described the candidate field as a “close pool of friends running against each other.” Casteel said their relationships would not stop the candidates from running hard against each other. “It’s a competition,” he said.