Race brews for NRSC chairmanship, as Portman weighs bid

Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanThe fight to protect the Affordable Care Act isn’t over GOP senators rally to McConnell's defense amid Trump attacks Sex trafficking bill would make the internet a wasteland MORE (R-Ohio) is mulling whether to challenge Sen. Jerry MoranJerry MoranGOP senator wants classified briefing on North Korea McConnell faces questions, but no test to his leadership Senate rejects ObamaCare repeal, replacement amendment MORE (R-Kan.) to lead the GOP effort to capture the Senate — the only leadership race to emerge after Republicans suffered embarrassing losses at the polls on Tuesday. 

Moran has been lobbying colleagues for six months to replace Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCongressional investigations — not just special counsels — strengthen our democracy Wrath of right falls on Google THE MEMO: Trump's base cheers attacks on McConnell MORE (Texas) as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

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Moran said Wednesday that he had garnered enough commitments to win the position but might face a challenge from Portman, one of Mitt Romney’s closest allies on the campaign trail this year.

A source close to Portman said he has received calls over the past few weeks urging him to challenge Moran. Portman has been flattered by the attention but has not made any decision about whether to launch a bid, the source said.

One Republican aide said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump quietly putting his stamp on the courts Democrats see ObamaCare leverage in spending fights OPINION | Progressives, now's your chance to secure healthcare for all MORE (Ky.) is leaning on Portman to pursue the job.

But a senior Republican aide close to the GOP leadership said that while McConnell has talked to colleagues about the NRSC chairmanship, he is not offering the job to anybody. McConnell has told Moran that he stays out of leadership races.

The Senate Republican Conference will vote on the next chairmanship of the NRSC and other leadership positions at a private meeting next week. No formal notice had been issued by press time, but the meeting is expected to take place Nov. 14.

“I have talked to all of my colleagues, present and future, and have had a sufficient number of commitments that I would be elected to chair the NRSC,” Moran said in a telephone interview.

He said he began meeting with colleagues six months ago and has had face-to-face conversations with every sitting Republican senator who will vote next week. He said he also has spoken with the three Republican senators-elect: Ted CruzTed CruzThe Memo: Trump tries to quiet race storm Cruz calls for Justice Department investigation into Charlottesville violence THE MEMO: Trump's base cheers attacks on McConnell MORE from Texas, Deb FischerDeb FischerSenators eye ticket fee to overhaul airports Lobbying World Congress must stop the assault on taxpayer-friendly freight railroads MORE from Nebraska and Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeChallenger’s super PAC accuses Flake of betraying voters in new ad Dems target Flake's seat amid GOP infighting Republican lawmakers criticize Trump response to Charlottesville MORE from Arizona.

Moran says as NRSC chairman he will work to stop Democratic interference in GOP primaries. Republicans believe Democrats spent over $1.5 million in Missouri to help Rep. Todd Akin win the GOP primary.

“We need to sit down and regroup and figure out what happened in 2012,” he said. “It’s a mistake to allow the Democratic organization to choose our candidates.”

Moran served on the executive committee of the National Republican Congressional Committee while a member of the House.

McConnell seems to want the NRSC job to go to a senator with a high profile. He discussed it with rising-star freshman Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioThe Memo: Trump tries to quiet race storm Trump tweets on trade, military, Alabama, but not Charlottesville Venezuelan leader put a hit on Marco Rubio: report MORE (R-Fla.), who mulled the offer but told McConnell it was not the right next step for him, according to a source familiar with the conversations.

Political handicappers predicted at the start of the 2012 election cycle that Republicans would win enough seats to take control of the Senate, but that dream ended in crashing disappointment when Democrats actually expanded their majority.

Conservative activists strongly criticized the Senate GOP leadership Wednesday, and one, Richard Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, called on the congressional leadership to resign.

“The battle to take over the Republican Party begins today and the failed Republican leadership should resign,” Viguerie told reporters at a press conference with other conservative activist leaders at the National Press Club.

The challenge from activists garnered little attention on Capitol Hill.

“Richard Viguerie is not someone I’ve paid attention to in 20 years,” said one GOP aide. “He’s not a guy with his finger on the pulse of the movement.”

Other conservatives blamed the entire Senate GOP caucus for the party’s poor showing Tuesday.

“The Republican caucus as a whole did not do a good job,” said Brian Darling, senior fellow for government studies at the Heritage Foundation.”

Darling said GOP leaders should have forced vulnerable Democrats such as Sens. Jon TesterJon TesterTrump signs Veterans Affairs bill at New Jersey golf club It's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him OPINION | Wendy Davis: Collins and Murkowski inspire the next generation of women in politics MORE (Mont.) and Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillDemocrat senator: Trump has elevated Kim Jong-Un to the world stage It's time for McConnell to fight with Trump instead of against him OPINION | Wendy Davis: Collins and Murkowski inspire the next generation of women in politics MORE (Mo.) to take more tough votes on gun control, repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage.

“They allowed Reid to control the agenda from day one to Election Day, and that proved a failing because they did not force votes on issues that would have helped them,” he said. “They did not force enough votes to give the American people a reason to vote for Republicans. You ask voters what Republicans stand for and they can’t tell you much.” 

Despite the grumbling, Senate insiders said they did not expect any major shake-ups in the chamber’s Republican leadership.

McConnell will keep his post as Senate Republican leader, and Cornyn, who chaired the NRSC over the past two election cycles, is the favorite to become Senate Republican whip. The current whip, Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), will retire at the end of the year.

Sen. John ThuneJohn ThuneGOP debates tax cuts vs. tax reform Trump turns on GOP Congress Lacking White House plan, Senate focuses on infrastructure MORE (S.D.), who chairs the Senate Republican Conference, has been considering a challenge to Cornyn for the whip’s job, but Senate aides said they were not aware of any movement from his camp this week.

One source familiar with Thune’s thinking said he “hasn’t stated his intentions yet.” Thune took over the Senate GOP conference chairmanship in January and has liked the job. He did not seem to be itching to grab for another promotion in the leadership so soon after getting the conference post when Congress recessed for the election at the end of September.

If Thune stays put as Senate Republican Conference chairman, Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoLacking White House plan, Senate focuses on infrastructure Effective climate protection means better policy and harnessing market forces GOP senators move to bolster border security, crack down on immigration MORE (Wyo.) is expected to be easily reelected as Senate Republican Policy Committee chairman and Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntGOP debates tax cuts vs. tax reform Five tough decisions for the GOP on healthcare Lacking White House plan, Senate focuses on infrastructure MORE (Mo.) is expected to win another stint as GOP conference vice chairman.