Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will not endorse in the Minority Whip race between GOP Sens. John Cornyn (second from left) and Lamar Alexander (right).
The votes will not occur until after the 2012 elections. Any new Senators elected would have votes, potentially giving Cornyn the advantage given his position at the NRSC.
Whom Republicans favor as an eventual successor to McConnell could be a factor in the outcome of the Whip contest. Should Cornyn or Thune replace Kyl as the No. 2, either might be seen as having an advantage toward becoming the Republican Leader whenever McConnell retires. The Kentuckian is up for re-election in 2014. He’s said he plans to run. If Senate Republicans want to leave their options open, Alexander might appeal as a placeholder who is unlikely to run for Leader, depending on the Tennesseean’s ambitions.
“Whoever wants to replace McConnell would be pleased to have Lamar in the second slot,” a Republican lobbyist with Senate relationships said. “If you allow Cornyn or Thune to replace Kyl, you are probably signaling who the next Leader is. This makes vote-counting hard because some of your competitors will vote for Lamar to keep their pathway cleared.”
The Senate campaign in Arizona to succeed Kyl could also be competitive and contentious, although the Republicans appear more organized in their efforts to hold the open seat in a state that leans Republican. However, the Democrats are optimistic about their prospects and believe recent population gains benefit their side. President Barack Obama briefly considered making a campaign push in Arizona in the 2008 presidential race but opted against it when Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) became the nominee.
Considered a frontrunner at the outset and expected to announce his candidacy soon is Rep. Jeff Flake (R). Former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, beaten badly by McCain in the 2010 GOP Senate primary, is interested in running again in 2012. Rep. Trent Franks (R) is examining a bid but is not expected to jump in, and freshman Rep. Ben Quayle (R) has been floating his name.
But Quayle’s father, former vice president and Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle (R), is telling people he would prefer that his son wait and run for McCain’s seat when Arizona’s senior Senator calls it quits, according to a Republican strategist based in the Grand Canyon State.
None of the current statewide GOP officeholders are expected to run at this point, including the governor, attorney general and treasurer.
State Senate President Russell Pearce is out, but he plans to run for Flake’s House seat and was on the phone making endorsement calls Thursday evening.
One notable Republican who is thinking of running is Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has made national headlines over the years for his tough stance on crime and illegal immigration. Arpaio has hinted he might be more interested in national office.
Among Democrats, several names are being discussed, but it remains unclear who is giving serious consideration to running.