Let's share NRSC pain, says Burr

Could two or three heads be better than one? That’s the question Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) plans to ask his freshman GOP colleagues when they convene tomorrow morning to discuss which of them should become the next chairman or chairmen of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).
“I think co-chairmanship at least needs to be explored,” Burr said yesterday.

Could two or three heads be better than one? That’s the question Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) plans to ask his freshman GOP colleagues when they convene tomorrow morning to discuss which of them should become the next chairman or chairmen of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).
“I think co-chairmanship at least needs to be explored,” Burr said yesterday.

Burr’s proposal or a variation on it could be popular because the next chairmanship may be a poisoned chalice. Most freshmen have indicated they want to avoid the risk and rigors of taking responsibility for the GOP’s electoral fortunes in 2008, a year in which Republicans will have to defend 21 seats.

The class is expected to fill the chairmanship when Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) leaves it open after the election this November.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) joked yesterday that the 70-year-old Dole looked 30 years old when she took the job and will look 45 years old when she leaves it. Dole’s inability to raise as much money as Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), appears to have hurt her political standing within the Republican Conference.

The constant travel and fundraising factored heavily in Sen. John Thune’s (R-S.D.) recent decision to shun a post that has helped lawmakers climb the leadership ladder in the past.

In Thune’s absence, Burr has been a widely discussed candidate.

“I’m glad to see he’s taking charge,” DeMint said. “The fact that he’s coming up with these ideas suggests he should be the next chairman.”

But Burr says he is not interested, at least not as a lone chairman. He says he thinks several members might “step up in a different configuration” and that Republicans need to “make sure [they] have the best model” for the committee.

“I’m not sure that you can have enough people in a leadership role,” Burr said. “You certainly can’t have too many.”

The plan to divide labor and accountability met with a mixed reaction from lawmakers and aides.

“That could be a very good idea if you get the right combination of people, who have strengths that complement each other,” said one senior Republican aide.

But the aide warned that a leadership team of more than two chairmen could easily devolve into turf warfare among them and their allies on the committee’s staff.

Thune and DeMint expressed willingness to discuss a new leadership structure at the NRSC and a division of labor and responsibility among senators, but both said the committee needs a single chairman.

“I still think there has to be one person who is responsible,” Thune said. “You’ve got to have someone where the buck stops.”

DeMint added, “We have to have one person in charge at the top.”

Whoever takes the reins will be under heavy pressure to keep up with Schumer, who is expected to remain chairman of the DSCC.

The DSCC had raised $77 million through the end of July and had $35 million remaining in its coffers, compared with $66 million raised and $21 million on hand for the NRSC.

Democrats will have to defend just 12 seats in the 2008 election cycle, giving Republicans comparatively few targets.

Republican leaders want to find a consensus pick before the November election to limit the number of competitive leadership races this winter. Their inability to do so thus far led the anti-Republican Senate Majority Project to send out an email yesterday with the subject line “New GOP Parlor Game: Who Wants to Be An NRSC Chair?”

Like Burr and Thune, DeMint has ruled himself out. A spokeswoman for Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) said her boss will not seek the job, and Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) is seen as an unlikely candidate. Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) did not close the door on a possible bid last week, and The Hill was unable to contact Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) for this story.

Thune noted that Republicans considered and rejected a proposal to make Dole and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) co-chairs of the NRSC two years ago.

But if Burr gets his way, the committee will be run by committee for the 2008 cycle.