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A disappointing election night for Senate Republicans might complicate Sen. John Cornyn’s presumed ascension to the No. 2 GOP leadership spot.
For more than a year, the Texas Republican has been the presumed frontrunner to become GOP Whip, and he is currently unopposed. But unexpected losses in deep red states such as North Dakota and other competitive seats have led to speculation that the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman could draw a fresh challenge, and sources said conversations have begun among Senators on how to proceed given the net loss of two seats Tuesday.
“After some of the results in the Senate races and the inability to get the top candidates in these races — to get them out of the primaries — I think it has made Cornyn less of a sure bet than he was a month ago,” a Senate GOP aide said.
While there will be some soul searching, the aide said Cornyn still remains the favorite in the absence of a clear alternative.
“I think he likely still gets it,” the aide said, “but it’s hard to tell until Members get back into town and everything sets in.”
Another Republican staffer agreed, saying, “I think Cornyn will be safe for Whip, but it obviously makes him weaker. I don’t see a ton of alternatives or challenges to leadership ... and without alternative candidates, they should be safe.”
Even if no one emerges to take on Cornyn, one Republican aide said challenges could crop up against other leaders, given the drubbing Senate Republicans received.
“Leadership challenges are likely,” the aide said, though it is not “clear who is going to run for which position.”
However, most sources said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remained relatively safe, despite the handwringing.
Sen. Jerry Moran (Kan.), who is running for National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, said Senators are currently reaching out to one another now as they decide their next move on a raft of issues related to politics and governing.
“My guess is that after [Tuesday] night’s election, the Republican Senators are going to be trying to figure out what the best way forward is,” Moran said in a brief interview. “With members of the Senate spread out across the country, those conversations are beginning to take place by phone and will actually be the conversations we have next Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and are the ones that will be the most important in making some kind of determination on what’s next. And my guess is that’s true with leadership races.”
Leadership elections are set for Wednesday morning, said Moran, who added that he believes Cornyn is still the frontrunner for Whip.