Race brews for NRSC chairmanship, as Portman weighs bid

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) is mulling whether to challenge Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMcConnell works to salvage tax bill GOP in furious push for tax-reform votes Overnight Tech: Lawmakers want answers on Uber breach | Justices divided in patent case | Tech makes plea for net neutrality on Cyber Monday 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 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 (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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat McConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Brent Budowsky: A plea to Alabama voters 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 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 from Texas, Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerUS trade deficit rises on record imports from China Flake, GOP senators to meet with Trump on trade Senate nixes provision boosting conservative college after uproar MORE from Nebraska and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Sasse: RNC help for Roy Moore 'doesn't make any sense' Sasse calls RNC decision to resume support for Moore 'bad' and 'sad' 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 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.), 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 TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank GOP defeats Schumer bid to delay tax vote MORE (Mont.) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocrats turn on Al Franken Trump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 Randolph ThuneMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Dems push for more money for opioid fight 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 Anthony BarrassoScalise: House, Senate ‘pretty close’ on tax bill Top GOP senator: House and Senate 'not that far apart' on tax bill Sunday shows preview: Republicans take victory lap on taxes MORE (Wyo.) is expected to be easily reelected as Senate Republican Policy Committee chairman and Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntDems push for more money for opioid fight Trump asked Senate Republicans to end Russia election interference investigation: report An overlooked solution to the opioid epidemic MORE (Mo.) is expected to win another stint as GOP conference vice chairman.