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Republicans hold 47 votes in the Senate, and if they were to win the majority, that could further boost Cornyn’s candidacy for Whip. After all, the NRSC chairman would be given much of the credit for electing more Republicans to the Senate.
“I think people will [at least] be in a better mood,” Cornyn said of the scenario.
But some Senate GOP aides said a good day at the polls in November might not necessarily translate into a win for Cornyn if Thune enters the Whip race because lawmakers already expect to at least gain seats, if not win the majority, based on what they see as favorable tail winds in competitive states across the country.
“Cornyn is the leading contender and has a compelling case to make, but not necessarily because Senators feel they owe him something,” another GOP aide said.
Cornyn took the helm of the NRSC after the disastrous 2008 cycle — a moment when the job had few takers and 2010 looked to deliver Republicans another shellacking. But 2010 turned out to be a wave election for the GOP, with Cornyn earning plaudits for his management of the NRSC.
Both Thune and Cornyn are reasonably well-liked in the GOP Conference.
“If [Thune] did [enter the Whip race], then he would garner a lot of support because there are a lot of people who think highly of him, and I think he is an integral part of leadership,” Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) said. Burr briefly threw his hat in the ring for Whip, but he backed out after deciding his policy and legislative goals were incompatible with running for and serving in a leadership position.
“But in races like this, as people have seen for years, the person who is in it early tends to lock down the vote,” Burr said.
Nevertheless, he said Thune would be a formidable opponent.
“But it is a private vote, so somebody like John Thune has the capability to move folks,” Burr said.
A race between the two would also be difficult for the Conference, with hard feelings likely to result.
“It’s a Senator’s least favorite task to pick among two peers,” said a Senate Republican aide, who added that the Conference could opt to work out an agreement where Cornyn is chosen as Whip and Thune is made NRSC chairman.