GOP Senators Bring Lots of Work to St. Paul

Posted August 28, 2008 at 6:44pm

For GOP leaders in the Senate, the Republican National Convention that kicks off today in St. Paul promises to be a whirlwind of activities and responsibilities. The leaders will try to take care of the hometown concerns of state delegations, use their lofty positions to advocate for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and pump up their endangered Senate incumbents and challengers.

According to his spokesman Don Stewart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) will naturally have a highly visible role at the convention.

Stewart said McConnell would do myriad media hits at the convention while also spending “a lot of time with Kentuckians” because he is the chairman of the delegation. Besides trying to whip up the nation for McCain, McConnell also has to whip up his own supporters in Kentucky, given that Democrats have targeted him in this election cycle.

Though McConnell has often clashed with McCain in the Senate — most notably over the Arizonan’s signature campaign finance reform push — a knowledgeable Republican aide said McConnell would likely use his speaking gig this evening to highlight McCain’s Senate résumé and military credentials. Tonight’s theme is “service.”

“Nobody’s expecting [McConnell] to be an attack dog,” the aide said. “They’re expecting him to talk about the remarkable story of his service to country. Unlike the Democrats, we don’t have to make up a story for [McCain].”

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl’s role at the convention will be broader than even McConnell’s, considering that Kyl is McCain’s home-state colleague and has become one of his key Senate surrogates to the media.

Kyl will host a reception Tuesday at the Minneapolis Club that is intended to celebrate McCain and his agenda. The McCain campaign has promised a “special guest” who they had yet to reveal by late last week, one Republican political strategist said.

Kyl said last week that he would be doing multiple media hits in St. Paul in the lead-up to McCain’s Thursday night acceptance speech, where he would continue to try to draw a contrast between McCain’s decades of experience and service to country and Obama’s relatively thin résumé.

Kyl was tasked with doing opposition press in Denver for the McCain campaign, telling reporters on Thursday that Obama is not ready to be president.

“When the stage is empty and all the speeches [in Denver] are finally done, Barack Obama will still not be ready to be president of the United States,” Kyl said.

But Kyl also has Senate Republican Conference duties, he said. He and McConnell will co-host the Senate Republican Cloakroom, which serves as a workspace in the convention center as well as a place to relax during Senators’ downtime.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) has a packed schedule as well. Like McConnell, Ensign will address the convention this evening and hit on the service theme while highlighting “the importance of this election for the Senate and the fact that the Republicans are the firewall to the Democrats’ agenda,” NRSC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said.

Though Fisher said the Senate Democrats’ claim that they could capture a filibuster-proof majority in November is overstated, she said Ensign will seek to rally Republicans to make sure the Democrats’ dream does not become a reality.

“He’ll say, ‘This is important, and it’s something you should be worried about,’” she said.

While Ensign’s speech will generally touch on the difficulties Senate Republicans face this election year, Fisher said Ensign will talk more specifically about individual Senate races during a slew of media interviews.

Ensign will also attend several events for NRSC donors.

As the chief messenger for Senate Republicans, Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) “will meet with fellow Tennesseans attending the convention and take part in several events to highlight the serious policy debates Congress needs to have on issues ranging from high gas prices to job creation,” Alexander spokesman Ryan Loskarn said.

Like his counterparts in Senate leadership, Alexander will participate in a variety of RNC and NRSC events, as well as several media interviews. On Wednesday morning, Alexander plans to take part in a panel discussion on Republican policy proposals with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and National Journal’s Charlie Cook.

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairwoman Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) is scheduled to speak in prime time on Wednesday night about the nation’s energy crisis and GOP proposals to solve it, said her spokesman Matt Mackowiak. She will also attend a variety of Texas delegation and Senate GOP Conference events as well as do a variety of media hits.

Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) will be in St. Paul only today and Tuesday, but his schedule appears jam-packed with delegation meetings, NRSC events and a speaking slot at the RNC’s welcome dinner tonight, said his spokesman Brian Walsh.

Cornyn will also have “a heavy media component to his visit, spending time on radio and blogger row, for example, to serve as a surrogate for Sen. McCain and to share his views on why Sen. McCain is the most experienced candidate to be our next commander in chief,” Walsh said.

Back in Texas by Wednesday, Cornyn, who is up for re-election this year, will attend campaign events and plans to join supporters for a convention watch party in Dallas on Thursday night. But Walsh warned that Cornyn would be monitoring the weather, given the potential for a hurricane to hit Texas this week, and that could change his plans.