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Senate Republicans conceded Monday that the looming two-year battle between Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and John Cornyn (Texas) to succeed Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) as Whip could be a troublesome distraction, but they downplayed the effect the campaign would have on Conference unity.
“All in all, it would have been better” for Republicans had the leadership race been delayed, said Kyl, whose decision to not run for re-election in 2012 spawned the contest between Alexander and Cornyn.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) acknowledged that its effect on the Conference was unclear, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she was surprised to get calls from the prospective candidates so soon after Kyl’s announcement Thursday.
“I think that if it is something that goes on for a long period of time, that’s not necessarily good for us,” said Murkowski, who served as Conference vice chairwoman until late in the summer of 2010. “Usually, with leadership, you don’t even start thinking about it until toward the very end, and you’ve got a month, and that’s about it.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made clear he would not be involved in the race for the No. 2 spot in the GOP leadership “in any way,” despite his four-decade friendship with Alexander, the Conference chairman, and his close personal relationship with Cornyn, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman.
Alexander and Cornyn were still in the process Monday of telephoning colleagues to appeal for support. Additionally, Thune was preparing to join Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) in a run for Conference chairman if the South Dakotan forgoes a run for president. Thune is the GOP Policy Committee chairman, and according to knowledgeable sources, he is also considering jumping into the Whip race.
Thune confirmed Monday that he expects to announce a decision on his White House plans by the end of February.
“We want to deal with the nomination decision, and if we decide not to pursue a national race, look at opportunities around here to contribute,” he said, adding that his decision about whether to run for president is “a work in progress.”
Speaking to Capitol Hill reporters for the first time since launching their head-to-head bid for Whip, Alexander and Cornyn attempted Monday to diminish the campaign’s potential for disruption to the Conference, which appears to be in a solid position to compete for the majority in the 2012 elections.