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Independence Could Stall Alexander’s Rise

GOP Gains at Ballot Box Could Propel Cornyn

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Lamar Alexander could fall short in the GOP Whip race if Senators make their pick based on how often candidates have voted with the Republican Party.

The Senate Republican leadership team's quiet maverick, Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), could see his bid to succeed Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) as Whip derailed by his independent voting record.

Congressional leadership races are complicated, with several factors influencing Members' secret votes in what are generally high-stakes battles among close friends. Still, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) has enjoyed an assumed advantage over Alexander in the early stages of this contest.

In a head-to-head battle with Cornyn, Alexander could find that his greater willingness to cross the aisle on key floor votes dampens his prospects to move up. That could be even more salient if the Texan successfully caps off a four-year run at the NRSC by delivering control of the chamber to the GOP, especially after beginning his tenure in 2009 with the party barely able to sustain a filibuster.

A former Republican Senate aide said Alexander's voting record "is that extra something" that could further boost Cornyn into the No. 2 GOP leadership spot.

"Deep down, Members want a leader who will toe the party line and not stray," this Republican said. "They may like Alexander a lot. But the fact that Cornyn has helped elect waves of conservatives and votes more conservative that's what Alexander could be up against."

Alexander, a former governor who ran for president in 1996, is far from a moderate, and he is personally close with, and has the confidence of, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Plus, sources said, he has been among the Conference's most forceful and effective advocates on major issues during the GOP's battles with Congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama. But the Tennessean votes with his party less than Cornyn does, according to statistics compiled by Congressional Quarterly.

This year, Alexander has voted with fellow Republicans 84 percent of the time; Cornyn has done so 92 percent of the time. In 2010, Alexander voted with his party 87 percent of the time compared with Cornyn's near-perfect 99 percent. In 2009, Alexander's party unity voting percentage was 77 percent; Cornyn's was 96 percent. From 2003 to 2008, Alexander voted with his party on average
92.5 percent of the time. Cornyn's average: 97 percent.

Last December, Alexander was among 13 Republicans and the only GOP leader to join Democrats in voting to ratify the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, a centerpiece of Obama's foreign policy strategy. In May, Alexander was among 11 Republicans to vote with Democrats, this time to end the filibuster of Obama judicial nominee John McConnell, who was deemed controversial by many conservatives. Alexander opposed McConnell for final confirmation.

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