Updated: 12:23 p.m.
A contentious race is under way between Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and John Cornyn (Texas) to succeed Sen. Jon Kyl as GOP Whip in the next Congress.
A Cornyn aide confirmed that the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman is throwing his hat in the ring to replace Kyl, and taking on Alexander, the Conference chairman, who said Thursday he would seek the post. Kyl announced that he would not seek another term in 2012.
Campaigning has already begun, with Senators looking to line up votes for the contest that is more than a year and a half away.
But that’s not the only race for GOP leadership.
Sen. Mike Johanns is running for Conference chairman, and the Nebraska Republican confirmed in an interview Friday morning that he also phoned his colleagues Thursday in a process that will continue over the next few days with the goal of discussing the matter with all 46 of his colleagues. Johanns said his candidacy was well-received by those with whom he spoke.
“I don’t want to say I’ve counted 10 votes on my side. We’re two years away,” Johanns said. “But I’ve not had anyone say, gosh Mike, don’t do that. It was very encouraging.”
Cornyn plans to tell his colleagues that he expects to spend the next two years focused on his job as NRSC chairman; he also will tell them his goal is to ensure the GOP wins the majority. The Texan led the GOP to a pickup of seven seats last cycle; he has said repeatedly that his goal is to win control of the Senate in 2012.
Alexander’s team made clear on Thursday that he would run for Whip; Conference Vice Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.) also appears interested in moving up in the hierarchy. Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) could also be interested in a promotion, although any move he makes depends on whether he runs for president.
A Barrasso aide confirmed Friday that the Wyoming Republican would be interested in running for NRSC chairman or Republican Policy Committee chairman. The NRSC chairmanship will definitely become open in the next Congress; Cornyn will have completed his second tour atop the fundraising arm.
“Sen. Barrasso is focused on the job as vice chair that he was elected to do,” the aide said. “Now more than ever, he believes strongly that we need a team focused on the enormous challenges facing the country.
“He will continue to be very active in leadership,” the aide continued, “and is actively considering every option including Conference chair, RPC and NRSC.”