With 20 Democrats and just 13 Republicans up for Senate reelection in 2014, the next cycle, like this one, favors Republicans. The ratio makes the chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee a potentially plum post for an ambitious member, offering a good chance at getting credit for gaining seats while building national fundraising chops.
Several would-be leaders are already eyeing the chairmanship, which Texan John Cornyn plans to vacate after two cycles to run for whip, the second-ranking leadership post.
The list starts with Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota. Thune is also considering challenging Cornyn for the whip job, GOP aides said. If Republicans pick up at least four seats and win the majority in November, Cornyn will likely cruise to the whip post. He would also establish himself as an obvious successor to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. If Democrats retain control, the door for Thune to challenge Cornyn may open. Regardless of November’s outcome, Thune might seek the NRSC chairmanship, a job that could help build a national fundraising network for a 2016 presidential bid by the South Dakotan, who considered running this year.
Spokesman Kyle Downey declined to comment on Thune’s possible leadership plans.
Who occupies the White House, even more than Senate control, will dictate who seeks the NRSC job. Reelection of President Obama would make 2014 a more favorable year for Senate Republicans. A win by Mitt Romney would make 2014 his first midterm; such elections usually favor the party challenging the president.
Other potential NRSC chairmen include Bob Corker of Tennessee, Roy Blunt of Missouri, and Jerry Moran of Kansas.
Senate colleagues have encouraged Corker to seek the job, and he’s interested, according to multiple GOP aides. Corker is considered an adept fundraiser, and his seat on the Banking Committee and deep engagement in financial policy could help him tap Wall Street donations.
But a leadership position and role in electoral strategy would be a big departure for Corker, who has earned a reputation as a policy wonk—and not particularly a team player. The former Chattanooga mayor touts his bipartisan work on banking issues, particularly with Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and has occasionally criticized his party leadership.
In December, for example, Corker faulted legislation to extend an employee payroll-tax break as political. “Unfortunately both parties believe their most important priority should be making decisions that help them keep or attain the majority instead of doing the difficult things we know have to happen to get our country back on firm footing,” he said.
Such a sentiment would be hard to square with the NRSC job, which is focused on building and maintaining a GOP majority.
Enthusiasm for elevating Blunt, who recently became Conference vice chairman, may be mixed. Some Republicans privately fault the former House whip for overplaying the GOP hand in the contraception-coverage debate. Democrats and some Republicans said that Blunt’s proposal to allow employers to opt out of a contraception mandate handed Democrats the advantage after the White House initially stirred controversy with the rule.
Moran, though a relatively unknown freshman, is interested in the NRSC job. Spokeswoman Garrette Silverman said that Moran is focused on securing GOP wins in November but “if there is an opportunity for him to be even more helpful in the 2014 elections, he will seriously consider how he can do so.”
An ideal NRSC chairman may be Florida’s Marco Rubio, a conservative with star power and a national profile that would make him a strong party fundraiser and cheerleader. Whether he is even interested, however, is unclear. Although the job comes with a national Rolodex, it might hamper the young senator’s presumed presidential ambitions. Rubio is seeking distance from Washington, which would be tough to achieve in a job requiring him to work closely with McConnell and other party leaders.
Other names bandied about as potential vice presidential nominees as well as NRSC leaders are Ohio’s Rob Portman and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte.
Portman, an effective fundraiser, left the door open in a statement from his office.
“Rob remains focused on pushing for pro-growth, pro-jobs reforms that will get Ohio’s economy moving again and supporting candidates who share the belief that Washington needs to address the out-of-control spending that is threatening to bankrupt the country,” spokesman Jeff Sadosky said.
An earlier version of this story misspelled Sadosky's name.
This article appears in the May 7, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.