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Senate GOP Contends Drawn-Out Whip Race Won’t Break Solidarity

File Photo
Senate Republican Conference Lamar Alexander (above) will face Sen. John Cornyn in the race to succeed Sen. Jon Kyl as Whip.

Alexander said that his first call after deciding to run for Whip was to Cornyn and that his priority would be to focus on the responsibilities of his current post. Sources with knowledge of the Whip campaign said the Tennessee Republican’s pitch to colleagues has been to highlight his close relationships with both moderates and conservatives and his accomplishments as Conference chairman, whose chief task is to hone a unifying political message on key issues.

“The contribution I’ve tried to make to our caucus is to help. We’re more effective when we have a unified Republican message, and sometimes we can do that. When you have 47 Senators with a variety of views, consensus isn’t always possible. But that’s a contribution I’ve tried to make,” Alexander said. “I’ve tried to be even-handed and do that. I’d like to continue to do that as the assistant leader when the time comes.”

Alexander described himself and Cornyn as a “couple of wide receivers” on the same team who both want to play first string. He defended his decision to launch a race for Whip within hours of Kyl’s announcement Thursday morning.

“Most Senators have said to me it’s helpful to know what everyone’s intentions are. So I just thought I should let my colleagues know that I’ve enjoyed being the Conference chairman, won’t be running again, will be running for Whip, and then I’ll go back to business. That decision is so far away that I won’t be spending much time thinking about it,” Alexander said.

Cornyn was less forthcoming about his discussions with colleagues, declining to discuss his sales pitch or the tenor of conversations. However, informed sources indicated that he is emphasizing his achievements as NRSC chairman and the fact that he volunteered for the job at a time when no one else wanted it. Republicans won seven seats last cycle despite initial predictions of further setbacks after heavy losses in 2006 and 2008.

The Whip election will occur after the 2012 elections and include only those Members who will be seated in the 113th Congress. If the GOP has a good year and Members elected in 2010 and 2012 favor Cornyn for his work aiding their campaigns, he could have an advantage.

“I’ve reached out to my colleagues and let them know my interest. But frankly, two years is a long time for a campaign. We’ve got some more important things we’ve got to do right ahead of us,” Cornyn said, adding that the Whip campaign would not adversely affect the Conference. “It shouldn’t. Lamar and I have a very good relationship, and it’s going to be all positive. That’s my intention.”

Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Barrasso, who confirmed that he is interested in moving up in leadership if opportunities arise, was adamant that all of the jockeying would not affect the cohesiveness of the leadership team or the Conference as a whole.

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