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Updated: 12:46 p.m.
Senate Republican leaders and leadership hopefuls have been busy this election cycle doling out dollars to incumbents and candidates, but the money they’re spending isn’t all selfless majority-building. It may also be useful in shoring up support for their possible leadership bids.
For example, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has contributed $253,000 over the past two years to Senate candidates, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission reports.
Thune, whose generosity to candidates comes from his Heartland Values PAC, is weighing whether to give up his job as Republican Conference chairman to run for Whip or NRSC chairman, which could trigger a scramble among ambitious GOP Senators for the spots that open up.
Thune has contributed to and campaigned for a raft of GOP Senate candidates, including Reps. Rick Berg (N.D.) and Denny Rehberg (Mont.) and Deb Fischer in Nebraska. Even if Thune decides to run again for his current position, his work with candidates could help him secure their votes if they end up in the Senate.
Raising funds and helping out colleagues “is kind of expected” of leaders and those who may seek to boost their position in the Conference, a Senate GOP aide said.
“It builds goodwill” with colleagues, particularly with new Members, the aide continued. “It's also necessary if we are going to have a shot at keeping or taking some of these seats; it requires a chunk of change. And the reality is now we have situation where we have some of these ridiculous primaries, it ends up costing us significantly more than it would otherwise. Indiana is a perfect example.”
Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.) lost a primary challenge from the right to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who is now under fire for defending his opposition to abortion by saying that pregnancies resulting from rape are “something that God intended to happen.”
Senate Republican leadership elections are expected to take place in the first few weeks after the elections. Any move by Thune will likely put him in a contested race.
He would face a formidable opponent if he decides to run for Whip. Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), the current NRSC chairman, has already declared his intention to run and has been seeking commitments from his colleagues since last year. He has contributed more than $816,000 to Senate candidates so far this cycle.
Of that, $461,000 came from Cornyn’s Alamo PAC, $255,000 from the Cornyn Majority Committee PAC and $100,000 from the Texans for Senator John Cornyn PAC.