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New Roster of GOP Leaders Looks to 2012

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (center) and his Republican leadership team are tasked with developing and pushing a governing agenda that appeals to voters and keeps Senate Democrats off-balance.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have to settle on a legislative agenda that can be embraced by moderates such as Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine) who are running for re-election, but also cause problems for incumbent Democrats. Doing so could require the GOP to reach a consensus on difficult issues such as entitlement reform and budget issues such as taxes and spending.

One Republican lobbyist with relationships in the Senate suggested that more than the Senate majority could depend on how effective Republicans are at generating an effective message.

“The Senate Republican leadership is going to have to get on some kind of message that they can govern and not just obstruct. The House leadership has a complete agenda that came out of their retreat,” the lobbyist said. “The stakes are very high. ... The current leadership will demonstrate some intellectual firepower and have a coordinated plan or they may get traded for a future draft choice in [the post-November election] leadership elections.”

Should former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney win the Republican presidential nomination, Thune and Blunt could serve as conduits between the GOP’s White House campaign and Senate GOP leadership, possibly making it easier to ensure message and strategic consistency. Both Senators endorsed Romney last year.

On the job for about a week, the new team was elected in December after Alexander made the unusual decision to voluntarily step down as Conference chairman midway through his two-year term. Only one member is new — Blunt — but two others are new to their positions: Barrasso and Thune, who is now the
No. 3 ranking Republican.

Alexander, a close personal friend and professional confidant of McConnell’s, is expected to be a valuable ally for the Minority Leader in his new role as a respected senior Member who can operate independently and is otherwise unconstrained by the political limitations of leadership.

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) is retiring at year’s end, and the competition for his and other spots in the November leadership elections could cause friction on a team — and within a Conference — that has been cohesive during McConnell’s tenure as Minority Leader. But Senate Republicans are expected to remain unified — if for no other reason than Members are likely to have little tolerance for grandstanding or dissension given what’s at stake.

“Anyone who gets in the way of winning the majority will really frustrate Senators,” a former Republican Senate leadership aide said.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) and Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) are already locked in a battle for Whip, and Thune also is eyeing a bid for the No. 2 slot. Success or failure to win the majority this year could spur several other Members to challenge incumbents for leadership positions, including, potentially, McConnell.

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