Sen. Moran takes early, and lonely, lead in race for NRSC chairman post

Sen. Jerry Moran (Kan.) is the early favorite to take over as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) after the election. 

The reason? It’s a one-man race. 

The map for Senate Republicans in 2014 looks very favorable, but Moran is the only GOP member who has expressed an interest in the plum job.

Just over 40 days out from Election Day, Moran has begun to call colleagues to secure their support and fend off a possible leadership race. 

Several senators said they have talked to Moran about his ambitions for the job and have not heard from anyone else.  

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The names of Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have been floated as possible contenders, but all three lawmakers indicated to The Hill they are not interested.

Rubio told The Hill that he has not had any conversations with colleagues about the NRSC chairmanship and was not inclined to pursue it. However, he would not rule out the possibility.  

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who narrowly lost to Blunt in a race to become vice chairman of the Senate GOP conference, said he does not plan to challenge Moran.  

Party leaders have approached Corker in the past about chairing the NRSC because as a former CEO he has a natural rapport with business leaders who fit the committee’s donor profile. But Corker wants to focus on policy, specifically a grand bargain next year to cut the deficit.  

The NRSC chairmanship has been a springboard to the upper ranks of the Senate GOP leadership. 

Former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) vaulted from the NRSC to Senate majority leader after helping Republicans capture the upper chamber in 2002. McConnell became Senate Republican whip after heading the NRSC in the 1998 and 2000 cycles.  

Moran, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 after serving 14 years in the House, has a reputation for being ambitious throughout his congressional career. The freshman has an accomplished record on agriculture issues and sits on the Appropriations Agriculture subcommittee.  

A spokeswoman for Moran said her boss is concentrating on helping GOP candidates this fall. 

“While he has been encouraged by his colleagues to give the NRSC a serious look, Sen. Moran continues to be focused on making certain Republicans gain a majority in the Senate and win the White House this November,” said Garrette Silverman. “Through his work with FreeState PAC, Sen. Moran is traveling the country to raise money and has given to nearly every Senate candidate this cycle.

“He is also serving as a co-chairman of the Romney Farm and Ranch team,” she added. 

One lawmaker cautioned that another contender could emerge because Republicans feel confident they will retake the Senate in 2014 —if not this cycle. 

“If Obama wins reelection, and it kind of looks that way now, the president’s party traditionally loses seats in the midterm of the second term. The Democrats have to defend more seats than us. All it’s going to take is a chairman who can walk and chew gum to win back the Senate,” said the source.  

Moran could face a challenge from Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), the low-key Republican freshman who is most known for his policy expertise. Portman served on the deficit-reduction supercommittee this Congress and could immerse himself again in the debt debate next year. 

Portman could have Senate leadership ambitions since being passed over for Mitt Romney’s running mate. He is one of the biggest fundraisers among the Senate Republican freshman class. A Portman aide did not rule out a bid for NRSC chairman.  

“Rob will spend the next month and a half doing everything he can for Romney and [Rep. Paul] Ryan [R-Wis.] in Ohio and to ensure he has as many Republican colleagues as possible with him in the Senate next year. Anything past Election Day will be considered at that point,” said the aide.  

Democrats will have to defend 20 seats in the 2014 cycle, including several incumbents running in red states: Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).  

Freshman Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) could also face tough races. There is the possibility Rockefeller and fellow veteran Sens. Tom Harkin (Iowa) and Dick Durbin (Ill.) will retire. 

Republicans must defend only 13 seats. The most vulnerable GOP seat might belong to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has a $6 million war chest and represents a conservative-leaning state. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) could come under threat from a conservative challenger. The Club for Growth, a free-market advocacy group, says it might oppose him in the 2014 GOP primary. 

Republicans have seen their chances of winning the Senate this year fall since early last year, when they felt assured of seizing the majority. Their prospects took a hit with the surprise retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-Mo.) controversial statement on rape, which spurred the NRSC and Crossroads GPS, a Republican super-PAC, to pull funding from the Missouri race. 

One GOP senator said there is limited interest in taking over the NRSC because the current chairman, Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), set such a high standard with his grinding work ethic. 

“We see John Cornyn in the airport almost every weekend flying to one part of the country or another,” said another lawmaker. 

Cornyn has benefited from representing Texas, the wealthiest red state in the nation and home to many super-rich conservative donors he can tap to support GOP candidates. A successor could be hard-pressed to match his fundraising productivity. 

Another GOP senator said Moran has a good chance of winning the chairmanship because he is the only person aggressively campaigning for it. 

Moran straddles the divide between Tea Party conservatives and mainstream Republicans. He is a member of the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus but more of a team player than Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who have clashed with Republican leaders.

Moran last week backed Cornyn’s decision not to spend money to help Akin, while DeMint is pondering getting involved in the race.

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