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Updated: Nov. 13, 12:05 p.m.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said Friday that his aim is to avoid GOP infighting in 2012 Senate primaries, but he held firm that he would continue to recruit conservative candidates he believes are the most “electable.”
In the 2010 cycle, Cornyn and Senate Republican leaders were on opposite sides of conservative activists — and some GOP Senators — in a handful of primaries. Cornyn is hoping for greater party unity going forward, and he plans to ask the GOP Conference if there is a way to achieve this when he stands for election to another term as NRSC chairman on Tuesday.
Cornyn said the results of the Nov. 2 midterms proved that electability matters. While acknowledging an imperfect record, the Texan said Senators who take issue with his candidate recruitment strategy must better communicate what they’re looking for in a Senate nominee and be consistent. Last week, Republicans lost three Senate races that featured nominees opposed by the NRSC in the primary.
“I don’t know any other way to do it but to go out and try and recruit the best people. There’s too much at stake to let nature take its course,” Cornyn said by telephone from Dallas. “It’s not just about philosophy, but about electability. We had some problems with that this time.”
The fact that Cornyn would mount a second bid for NRSC chairman has been known for several months. The Senator is unlikely to be contested for the job. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen.-elect Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) are slated to deliver nominating speeches in his favor.
Those expected to back Cornyn in the internal Conference vote include Sens.-elect Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Rob Portman (Ohio). Meanwhile, Ayotte and Sen.-elect Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) have committed $50,000 in Member transfers to help the NRSC pay down its 2010 election debt, according to a knowledgeable GOP source.
Ayotte was a prized Cornyn recruit. Toomey, however, was initially shunned in favor of Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.). Prior to Specter’s decision to leave the GOP to run as a Democrat, the NRSC backed the incumbent against Toomey in the primary.
After flipping seven Democratic-held seats this cycle, including six on Election Day and one in a January special election in Massachusetts, Cornyn intends to keep his staff at the NRSC in place for the 2012 cycle. There are 23 Democratic-held seats up, compared with just 10 Republican-held seats. He has said the majority is attainable in two years.
As he looks for personnel continuity and doubles down on his recruiting strategy, Cornyn also suggested he would be more aggressive on Member giving. At the outset of the 2010 cycle, Cornyn made a point of saying he would not press Republican Senators to give to the NRSC, given the failure of previous chairmen to get anywhere with that approach.