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The last GOP nominee had not yet conceded Wednesday and Senate Republicans had already started searching for a leader to find a path back to 51 seats.
Two lawmakers expressed immediate interest in the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman post for the 2014 cycle: Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), a Conference favorite, and Sen. Jerry Moran (Kan.), who has burned up the phone lines for months seeking the position.
The job of Senate campaign committee chief can be thankless at times, but it can also pay big dividends. Just ask Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.), who delivered a huge victory for her caucus Tuesday.
But both committees face unprecedented challenges next cycle.
For the second cycle in a row, Democrats must guard almost twice as many seats as Republicans — many in GOP strongholds such as Alaska and Louisiana. Senate Republicans, meanwhile, failed to meet expectations at the ballot box for the second cycle.
The GOP hoped to win the majority this cycle, but instead ceded two seats to Democrats. Part of the problem lies with the party’s brutal primaries, which have resulted in lackluster candidates being nominated and cost the party at least five seats during the past two cycles.
“The challenge for the next chair will be how to mitigate this,” a Senate GOP aide said. “How early should the NRSC play in a race and prop up a more electable candidate, or will they let primaries take their course and hope that candidate can appeal to the masses?”
Portman’s interest came as welcome news to much of the Senate GOP, which views him as a strong fundraiser, magnanimous colleague and a keen political mind. He raised more money for the NRSC than any other freshman this cycle, and he maintains a deep donor base in the posh parts of southern Ohio, a battleground state he won by nearly 19 points last cycle.
“It’s important to have someone in that position who understands the fundamentals, but who can also provide some leadership and vision to the committee,” said Bob Paduchik, a former top political aide for Portman. “With Rob, he’s the best package for both.”
Weeks before the polls closed Tuesday, Senate Republicans started pleading with Portman to consider the gig. A Republican close to Portman confirmed he’s thinking about it.
Moran started lobbying his colleagues one-by-one for their support months ago. He’s openly pursued the post, and has already called to congratulate the new GOP Senate class.
“I have a sufficient number of commitments that if the election is held, I would be successful in becoming the chair,” Moran told Roll Call on Wednesday.