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Sen. Richard Burr is asserting himself.
The North Carolina Republican, well-liked by most but occasionally criticized for lacking a killer instinct, intends to quell the doubters. Burr joined the open Whip race last month, challenging a candidate deemed an overwhelming favorite. And until that contest heats up, he is preparing an ambitious legislative agenda that includes the introduction of a blueprint to overhaul Medicare.
Burr, the Chief Deputy Whip under retiring Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), discussed his decision to seek the No. 2 Republican leadership post on Wednesday during a 30-minute interview with Roll Call. North Carolina's senior Senator entered the contest against National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) just days after Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) dropped out, raising some eyebrows in the process.
"I've been doing it for a while. I feel I can be very effective in that role," Burr said of whipping.
But it takes more than counting votes to become Whip, and the North Carolinian's political strength can be found in the relationships he has fostered and cultivated over 10 years in the House and now seven years in the Senate.
Burr has developed close, personal ties to influential GOP Members, including Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), and with an ideological cross section of the Senate Republican Conference. That factor could work in his favor in any head-to-head matchup against Cornyn, whose leadership of the NRSC has been universally lauded.
The Texan in 2010 led the Republicans back from the brink of irrelevance, presiding over a seven-seat gain in an election year that was initially forecast as another uphill battle for the GOP. But in 2012, he may lead the GOP into the majority. Burr acknowledged he is the underdog in the race, but he described his wealth of relationships and connections to a new generation of Republican Senators as a potential edge.
"John deserves a lot of credit for '10 and what I think will be the success of '12. But what the Senatorial committee did was the coordinated support of all the Membership," Burr said. "There are certainly Members who are going to be influenced by the help that the Senatorial Committee provided. But I don't think that that's necessarily overshadowed by the individual support that those Members have gotten from a host of people in the Senate. It's just hard to weigh that until you go down and sit and talk to them."