Cornyn Courts NRSC Votes

Posted November 11, 2008 at 2:55pm

Moving to solidify his hold on the chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the 2010 election cycle, Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) is raising money for Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ (Ga.) runoff campaign and offering to help Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.) survive an upcoming recount.

Coleman is all that stands in the way of Cornyn’s goal of succeeding outgoing NRSC Chairman John Ensign (Nev.). Coleman also has expressed interest in taking the NRSC next cycle, but his ability to run for the post has been put on hold.

Coleman secured a razor-thin victory over comedian Al Franken (D) on Nov. 4, but the margin is so tight that Minnesota is now engaging in a mandatory recount.

The recount isn’t expected to be completed until a month after next week’s Senate Republican Conference leadership elections, during which lawmakers will choose their next NRSC leader.

“Sen. Cornyn is committed to doing whatever he can to support Sens. Chambliss and Coleman and help ensure their return to the Senate,” Cornyn’s Senate spokesman Brian Walsh said.

Cornyn has committed $100,000 to the NRSC to help fund Chambliss’ race. The Georgia Republican fell just shy of winning his re-election outright last week, and now he is in a two-man runoff with former state Rep. Jim Martin (D). The runoff election is scheduled for Dec. 2.

Cornyn already has raised $85,000 of the $100,000 he has promised to bring in for the NRSC in the Georgia race, and he plans to donate the rest out of his campaign account. Cornyn easily won a second Senate term on Nov. 4, fending off state Rep. Rick Noriega (D).

Cornyn has been eying the NRSC chairmanship since early this summer. Faced with the potential for a tough fight for the post with Coleman, Cornyn in July donated $250,000 from his campaign account to the NRSC to lay the groundwork for his bid, and he gave another $50,000 in October.

Also in October, Cornyn gave $25,000 apiece to Republican parties in five states where GOP Senators were facing tough re-election fights: Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina and Oregon.

Coleman ran for NRSC chairman in 2004, losing by one vote to Sen. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.), who went on to preside over the GOP’s loss of the Senate majority in 2006. Dole lost her re-election bid this year.

Coleman has indicated his interest in the NRSC chairmanship for the 2010 cycle, and he suggested he has the support of many in the Senate GOP Conference who regret not electing him to the position in 2004. For some, Coleman could be an attractive choice in light of the strong campaign he ran in a Democratic state in such a big Democratic year.

But Coleman has not commented on his intentions since finishing a scant 206 votes ahead of Franken upon Monday’s conclusion of the standard canvass of votes that follows every Minnesota election. It remains unclear if he will be in a position to run for the post next week — even if he wants to.

Since that time, Cornyn announced he would put his bid on hold so that Coleman could focus on his re-election and recount.

That delay, however, isn’t stopping Republican leaders from pressing ahead with their scheduled leadership elections next week. Some Republicans had previously thought Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) might put the NRSC race on the backburner until Coleman’s fate was certain.

The NRSC can ill afford to delay its work on the 2010 elections until the end of this year, particularly given that GOP Senators face another hostile map, with 19 Republicans up for re-election and only 15 Democrats up.

The NRSC notwithstanding, Senate Republicans also have to work through some other housekeeping matters next week. GOP Senators are expected to vote on a series of reforms to their internal rules being proposed by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). DeMint has also put his colleagues on notice that he will seek to have embattled Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) expelled from the Conference and have his committee assignments stripped.

Stevens, who was convicted on seven counts in federal court last month, also is awaiting a final call in his re-election race against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D). Alaska officials are expected to begin counting more than 90,000 early and absentee ballots starting Wednesday.

While McConnell and others have called for Stevens to resign, it is unclear whether Republicans will in fact boot him from their ranks. Under Conference rules, another lawmaker would be required to second a motion to expel him. And while his status as a convicted felon has put Stevens on the outs with most of his colleagues, it is unclear whether that would be enough for any of the them to make a move against the longest-serving Republican Senator.