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McConnell's Unseen Hand at the NRSC

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
In a restructuring of the National Republican Senatorial Committee led by McConnell, second from right, Cruz, right, was selected as vice chairman for grass-roots outreach while Moran won the NRSC chairman post.

Moran appears to have embraced the addition of two vice chairmen to NRSC leadership, which was announced to the GOP Conference by McConnell during the Nov. 14 meeting held to elect leaders for the 113th Congress. Cruz is expected to serve as the NRSC point man for candidate recruitment; Portman only agreed to take his position if it carried with it executive authority over finance strategy and staff. Portman declined to run for chairman but was intrigued by having a stake in fundraising — one of his strong suits.

In fact, the Ohioan is drawing up the NRSC’s fundraising strategy for the 2014 cycle and is expected to rely on his own finance team, including national fundraising consultant Heather Larrison, to execute much of it. Larrison consulted for Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, during his 2012 re-election and previously advised former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour during his tenure as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Moran and Portman have met four times to discuss fundraising strategy; donors have been called and trips have been scheduled. Among Moran’s goals: increase the number of major donors who are regular NRSC contributors. Portman’s reputation among, and relationships with, donors on K Street, Wall Street and around the country — and Moran’s lack thereof — is considered key to achieving the committee’s finance goals.

“I think [Moran] understood he would need the help,” said a Republican operative with knowledge of how the NRSC’s power-sharing arrangement came about. Outside of Koch Industries, Kansas is hardly a hotbed of wealthy Republican donors from which to draw on, and Moran is a complete unknown in national GOP finance circles.

Cruz’s role appears less defined than Portman’s. But like the Ohioan, the senator-elect was disinclined to accept the position of vice chairman of grass-roots outreach if it was a figurehead post that didn’t carry influence or responsibility inside the NRSC.

Republicans familiar with the committee and Cruz’s involvement say they expect him to take the lead in helping the NRSC navigate the tricky politics of GOP primaries, though not necessarily by strong-arming the process and clearing the field for a favored candidate. Rather, Cruz would meet with conservative and GOP stakeholders at the local and state levels to help identify prospective Senate candidates and determine who has on-the-ground support and who might be able to emerge as a consensus candidate.

Cruz’s power to hire or sign off on senior staff remains unclear. But his small circle of senior advisers could play a significant role in his NRSC duties. They include newly hired Chief of Staff Chip Roy, a former Senate aide who recently served as an adviser to Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Jason Johnson, Cruz’s chief political consultant during his Senate campaign; and John Drogin, his campaign manager.

Moran Could Surprise His Detractors

Senators can be especially protective of their turf, and that has left some Republicans around town wondering how the NRSC is going to operate this cycle, even as they lauded Moran’s decision to accept Portman and Cruz in the committee’s leadership structure. But some have cautioned against underestimating Kansas’ junior senator, saying he is a hard worker and savvy political operator who could surprise many political observers.

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