Cruz out at Senate campaign arm

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 MORE (R-Texas), who repeatedly clashed with GOP leaders in the last Congress, has not been asked to return as vice chairman of grassroots outreach for the Senate Republican campaign arm.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerSenator predicts Congress will wrap up tax work in two weeks The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill US warship collides with Japanese tug boat MORE (R-Miss.) said neither Cruz nor Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him How four GOP senators guided a tax-bill victory behind the scenes MORE (R-Ohio), who was the NRSC’s finance vice chairman in the last election cycle, would serve additional stints in the committee’s leadership.

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“No, Rob is up for reelection. We wouldn’t ask him to do that,” Wicker said. “I think we’ll be releasing some names in the next week of people willing to do this.”

An NRSC aide said officials typically serve only one term.

“All senators in NRSC leadership commit to serving two-year terms, and the 2014 cycle was no different,” the aide said.

But there have been exceptions, including Sen. John CornynJohn CornynMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Air Force makes criminal reporting changes after Texas massacre We need a better pathway for allowing civilians to move guns across state lines MORE (R-Texas), who served as NRSC chairman in the 2010 and 2012 cycles.

And there are several reasons why Senate Republicans might not want Cruz to return to their campaign arm.

He drew the ire of colleagues in 2013 by raising money for the Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF), which backed primary challengers to now-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters MORE (Ky.) and Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranObstruction of justice watch: Trump attacks the FBI America isn't ready to let Sessions off his leash The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill MORE (Miss.).

Cruz attempted to mend fences with angry GOP colleagues by informing them in the fall of 2013 he would no longer help the SCF, but by then some damage had been done.

GOP senators were also miffed with Cruz for demanding that Congress use a 2013 government funding bill to defund ObamaCare, which led to a 16-day government shutdown that damaged the GOP brand.

Cruz might have his own reasons for wanting to avoid the NRSC slot, as he is rumored to be eying a run for the White House in 2016.

Behind the scenes, GOP strategists argue that Cruz contributed little of his time to the NRSC.

“Cruz might have to come to a couple of meetings in early March [2013] but they never heard from him after that until before the election, when he cut a very generous check to the NRSC,” said one Republican source familiar with the committee. 

A GOP strategist said, “[Cruz] did very little last cycle. It was a title in name only.”

Cruz pledged $250,000 to the NRSC in September 2014, something that angered many conservative activists.

Catherine Frazier, Cruz’s spokeswoman, noted that her boss crisscrossed the country last year to rally conservatives for Republican candidates, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, freshman Sen. Dan Sullivan — who knocked off a Democratic incumbent in Alaska — and freshman Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.).

Cruz also traveled in the final weeks of the campaign to Kansas and Georgia to rally conservatives to support embattled Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsSenate passes tax overhaul, securing major GOP victory Top GOP senators say they have the votes to pass tax bill The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill MORE (R-Kan.) and businessman David Perdue, who were in tight races.

“Sen. Cruz was glad to spend considerable time and resources working to help secure a GOP majority — $250,000 to the NRSC, $282,000 on robust digital campaigns for Perdue, [freshman Sen. Joni] Ernst [Iowa], Sullivan, [freshman Sen. Tom] Cotton [Ark.] and [New Hampshire candidate Scott] Brown and more than $78,000 to individual Senate candidates,” she said.

“He is optimistic of what we will be able to accomplish with a GOP-controlled Senate, and particularly anticipating his new role as chairman of the Space, Science and Competitiveness Subcommittee,” she added. 

Republicans dominated the midterm elections, netting nine seats and the Senate majority.

Next year, they will be defending 24 seats to only 10 for Democrats, setting up a much more difficult cycle. 

Republican incumbents will have to worry about challenges from the right during primary season. And the general election is expected to draw a broader base of voters given the race for the White House.

McConnell, who wants to hold the Senate majority and win back the White House, has already started to offer advice.

“Don’t try to reinvent yourself. Be yourself, number one. And don’t be afraid of a primary,” he told The Washington Post. “We will win all the primaries. We did it in ’14. We will do it in ’16.”

Cruz questioned the NRSC’s support for incumbents early in 2014, arguing that the group had a “terrible” record in picking winners and losers and citing former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s primary fight against now-Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRyan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Richard Gere welcomes lawmakers' words of support for Tibet Dem lawmaker gives McConnell's tax reform op-ed a failing grade MORE (R-Fla.).

“The NRSC endorsed Charlie Crist … and blackballed any consultant who worked with this young upstart named Marco Rubio. I think Washington insiders have a terrible record at picking winners and losers,” Cruz said at a “Playbook” breakfast in February 2014.

Most of the NRSC’s staff is returning, which Wicker said has given the committee a head start with its defense.

“We are well ahead of two years ago,” he said.

He also said he’s pleased with the high level of participation from fellow Republican senators who have trekked down to the committee’s headquarters to make fundraising calls.

Getting Republican donors to renew their commitment has been made somewhat easier by the excitement over the new majority.

“It’s very time-consuming and very much involves the members taking the time to make the calls and make the contacts and take the trips,” he said of meeting fundraising goals.

Republican strategists say the mission for 2016 is much different than in the last cycle because Wicker must focus more on incumbent retention and protection than recruiting candidates to run for open seats or knock off Democratic incumbents.

“We are hitting the ground running and are thrilled at the level of support from voters across the country who are already engaged and want to help protect the new Republican majority,” said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the NRSC.