Sen. Cornyn ahead in money race to become Senate Republican whip

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThis week: Congressional Republicans prepare to huddle with Trump GOP eyes new push to break up California court Senate confirms first nominees of Trump era MORE (R-Texas) gave more than $100,000 to colleagues though his leadership political action committee (PAC) last year, bolstering his bid to become Senate Republican whip at year’s end. 

Cornyn is seen by Senate GOP insiders as the front-runner in the leadership race to replace retiring Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.). Some think Cornyn’s aggressive use of his Alamo PAC is a sign he is actively angling for the No. 2 spot in the Senate GOP hierarchy. 

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His rival in the race, Sen. Richard BurrRichard BurrWant to streamline government? Start with the Pentagon. Senators introduce dueling miners bills Trump education pick to face Warren, Sanders MORE (R-N.C.), has given $60,000 through his leadership fund, the Next Century Fund, to Senate GOP colleagues and $45,000 to Senate Republican candidates such as George Allen in Virginia and Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeThis week: Congressional Republicans prepare to huddle with Trump GOP eyes new push to break up California court Live coverage of Trump's inauguration MORE in Arizona. 

Burr also gave $2,000 from his regular campaign fund to Allen. 

Sen. John ThuneJohn ThuneTrump, GOP set to battle on spending cuts Week ahead: FCC soon to be in Republican Pai's hands Senate confirms first nominees of Trump era MORE (R-S.D.), a possible third candidate to replace Kyl, gave $40,000 to Senate colleagues and $37,500 to Senate GOP candidates from his leadership PAC last year. 

The contributions were reported in filings to the Federal Election Commission covering 2011. Kyl announced his decision to retire in February of last year. 

Senate Republicans will elect a new whip at the end of the year to replace Kyl, who said “there’s more to life than being a United States senator” and will leave Congress  after more than a quarter-century in public service. 

His successor will be the heir apparent to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellThis week: Congressional Republicans prepare to huddle with Trump Trump to meet with congressional leaders Monday: report Meet Trump's secret weapon on infrastructure MORE (R-Ky.), who himself moved up from the whip job after the 2006 election. 

Thune, the third-ranking member of the Senate Republican leadership, has yet to announce a bid to move up to whip, but he is not ruling out the possibility. 

“Sen. Thune has left all options on the table when it comes to helping his Senate Republican colleagues,” said Kyle Downey, Thune’s spokesman.  

Thune would have a strong claim to the job because he ranks higher than Cornyn in the leadership and recently served as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, a job Kyl used to hold.

Kyl’s policy expertise and background have made him a useful proxy for the Senate Republican leadership in the high-stakes negotiations of the past year. He participated in the talks led by Vice President Biden to raise the debt ceiling, served as a member of the deficit-reduction supercommittee in the fall and recently helped negotiate a 10-month extension of the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits.

Burr is the chief deputy whip, experience that would make for a smooth transition if he took over for Kyl.

Burr is well-liked by his colleagues and one of House Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLast Congress far from ‘do-nothing’ Top aide: Obama worried about impeachment for Syria actions An anti-government ideologue like Mulvaney shouldn't run OMB MORE’s (R-Ohio) closest friends, which would be valuable to the Senate GOP leadership next Congress.

Cornyn, Burr and Thune gave money to vulnerable colleagues but also to those who face little or no threat. 

Cornyn gave $5,000 to Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeSenate teeing up Mattis waiver Lawmakers play nice at Russia hacking hearing Senate chairman meets Trump’s EPA nominee MORE (R-Okla.) and an in-kind gift of charter air travel worth $2,096, according to his PAC’s fundraising report. 

He also gave $10,000 to Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman John BarrassoJohn BarrassoBooker is taking orders from corporate pharmaceuticals Graham to vote for Trump’s EPA pick Pruitt says his EPA will work with the states MORE (Wyo.), $10,000 to Sen. Bob CorkerBob CorkerTop Dem comes out against Tillerson ahead of key vote This week: Congressional Republicans prepare to huddle with Trump Haley ready for UN role despite dearth of foreign policy experience MORE (R-Tenn.), $10,000 to Sen. Roger WickerRoger WickerTrump, GOP set to battle on spending cuts Senate confirms first nominees of Trump era Senate gears up for battle over Trump's CIA pick MORE (R-Miss.) and $10,000 to Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteTen rumored Trump Cabinet picks who didn't get a job Sasse, Perdue join Armed Services Committee Avid pilot among GOP senators joining Transportation committee MORE’s (R-N.H.) legal defense fund. 

Barrasso, Corker and Wicker do not have competitive races, and Ayotte is not up for reelection until 2016. 

Cornyn gave $5,000 through his PAC to Sen. Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderTrump, GOP set to battle on spending cuts Senate committee vote on DeVos postponed Cheney calls for DeVos to be confirmed ‘promptly’ MORE’s (R-Tenn.) leadership fund.

Burr’s PAC gave $10,000 to Corker, $5,000 to Barrasso and $10,000 to Wicker. 

Thune gave $10,000 to Corker, $2,500 to Wicker and $5,000 to Barrasso. He also gave $500 to Pat Grassley, a member of the Iowa House of Representatives and the grandson of Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyGOP senator: Trump budget chief could face confirmation 'problems' Jeff Sessions will protect life Justice, FBI to be investigated over Clinton probes MORE (R-Iowa). 

Cornyn is seen as having an advantage in the race because he is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and tasked with capturing majority control of the Senate. If he’s successful, his political reputation would soar much like Sen. Charles SchumerCharles SchumerTop Dem comes out against Tillerson ahead of key vote Democrats and the boycott of Trump's inauguration The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE’s (D-N.Y.) did after Democrats seized control of the upper chamber in the 2006 election. 

Republicans appear well-

positioned to return to the majority. They are defending only 10 seats while the Democrats must protect 23. Republicans feel assured of picking up two seats in conservative-leaning states — North Dakota and Nebraska — where the Democratic incumbent is retiring. 

The downside for Cornyn, however, is that if Republicans fail to win back the Senate majority, it would be seen as a fumbled opportunity and he would take a larger share of the blame than others in the GOP leadership. 

If Democrats cling to majority control, it would give Burr and Thune a better chance of sliding into the whip’s slot.  

Another advantage Cornyn enjoys as NRSC chairman is that it will give him a chance to support Senate candidates who might be voting in the November leadership election if they win their races. 

Burr and Thune have made inroads with potential future colleagues by giving to their campaigns.  

Burr passed out $5,000 contributions to a slew of Senate GOP candidates, including Rep. Rick Berg in North Dakota, Josh Mandel in Ohio, Pete Hoekstra in Michigan, Rep. Jeff Flake (R) in Arizona, Linda Lingle in Hawaii, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) in Montana, Heather Wilson in New Mexico and Allen in Virginia. 

Thune gave money to Mandel, Wilson, Allen, Lingle, Rehberg, Berg, George LeMieux in Florida and Jon Bruning in Nebraska.