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Other executive director candidates had constituencies, including Louisiana Sen. David Vitter’s chief of staff, Kyle Ruckert, and Mike Shields, the political director at the National Republican Congressional Committee last cycle. As a senior Senate aide with campaign experience, Ruckert’s backers in the GOP conference were numerous. Shields, meanwhile, had fans among many Republican operatives who believed his record of winning elections at the NRCC was exactly the kind of experience needed at the NRSC.
Once it was clear that Collins was a candidate for executive director, many GOP consultants expressed excitement at the prospect of him running the NRSC. He previously advised Sen. John Thune of South Dakota during his 2002 campaign, was a top aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and led American Action Network, a GOP super PAC. Some Republicans downplayed McConnell’s influence in Collins’ hiring; many others said the connection was obvious.
According to one former GOP congressional aide, this dynamic made particular sense given that McConnell, a former two-term NRSC chairman himself, was instrumental in getting Moran to embrace the new committee leadership structure with the two powerful vice chairmen. McConnell is up for re-election in 2014, and following a disappointing 2012 cycle that saw the GOP lose two Senate seats, Republicans say the minority leader was concerned about the leadership at the NRSC.
“If Portman and Cruz were named as vice chairs to keep an eye on Moran, having an [executive director] that the Republican leadership approved of would also be vital,” this former aide said.
A Republican familiar with Moran’s thinking emphasized that it was the NRSC chairman who had sole discretion to hire the committee executive director, although this individual acknowledged that every finalist for the position was discussed and given the green light by McConnell.
Moran also consulted Thune because of his experience with Collins in 2002, when he unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who is up for re-election this cycle. Moran, this individual explained, came away impressed with Collins’ plans for the broad strategic direction of the NRSC, and that is what influenced the chairman’s decision above all else.
“The No. 1 thing that sold him were his ideas,” this individual said.