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

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Trump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit 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 Mauze BurrLawmakers applaud Trump's ban on flavored e-cigarettes Trump to hold campaign rally in North Carolina day before special House election Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post 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 FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeFlake donates to Democratic sheriff being challenged by Arpaio in Arizona The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says US-China trade talks to resume, hails potential trade with Japan, UK Joe Arpaio to run for Maricopa County sheriff in 2020  MORE in Arizona. 

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

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneThe Hill's Morning Report - Pompeo condemns Iran for 'act of war' while Trump moves with caution Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet NRA says Trump administration memo a 'non-starter' 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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Overnight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts 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 Andrew BoehnerBoehner reveals portrait done by George W. Bush Meadows to be replaced by Biggs as Freedom Caucus leader Scaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' 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 (Jim) Mountain InhofeNegotiators kick off defense bill talks amid border wall, Iran debates House rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall Republicans wary of US action on Iran 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 Anthony BarrassoTo stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US GOP senator: Iran is behind attack on Saudi Arabia MORE (Wyo.), $10,000 to Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerTrump announces, endorses ambassador to Japan's Tennessee Senate bid Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia Trump says he's 'very happy' some GOP senators have 'gone on to greener pastures' MORE (R-Tenn.), $10,000 to Sen. Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerTrump judicial picks face rare GOP opposition Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers | Big tech defends efforts against online extremism | Trump attends secretive Silicon Valley fundraiser | Omar urges Twitter to take action against Trump tweet Tech giants defend efforts against extremist content MORE (R-Miss.) and $10,000 to Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states 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 AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns 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 GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Trump: 'Great to see' Pelosi plan to lower drug prices Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices 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 (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall 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.