The Akin remarks reverberated around the country, and the GOPs quick response was critically important in liberal Massachusetts, a state where Cornyn is heavily invested in incumbent Sen. Scott Brown.
Browns surprise come-from-nowhere win in a January 2010 special election to succeed a Democratic icon, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, energized Republicans. Brown is now in a tight battle with Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a consumer advocate and Harvard University professor, for a seat that Cornyn would dearly love to keep on his side of the aisle. Cornyn and Brown talk, text or email on a daily basis.
Massachusetts is a very tough state for a Republican, Cornyn said.
Not all of Cornyns relationships with Republican candidates have been as smooth. When it comes to endorsing in the primaries, especially in the era of tea party challengers, experience has made him cautious. This year he chose to stay out of the primary fray.
Ive learned from 2010 that theres quite a lot of skepticism from the grass roots, he said.
Two years ago, Cornyn embraced then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in his Senate bid early on, only to watch newcomer Marco Rubio, a state lawmaker at the time, win the primary and become an immediate Republican star.
But keeping his distance this year wasnt so easy in his home state of Texas, where his Republican colleague, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, is retiring. It produced a crowed primary field that narrowed to a runoff between the top two vote-getters, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite.
Like much of the Texas political establishment, Cornyn said he was surprised when Cruz beat Dewhurst decisively. The wealthy Dewhurst spent nearly $20 million, including $11 million of his own money. Cruz spent a third of that amount. Now he is leading David Sadler, the Democrat, in the polls and Republicans are confident that theyll hold the seat.
I told him, rather tongue in cheek, that the guy who spends $20 million usually wins, Cornyn said of Cruz. I see no separation between us.
But in other states where the outlook is less clear Maine, for instance Cornyn is counting on a strong performance from Mitt Romney, his partys presidential nominee, to give down-ticket candidates a boost.
In the end, it will come down to the candidates themselves, and not anything Cornyn can do.
Cornyn is the manager, but the players have to perform, said election expert Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University. He put the best lineup on the field that he can and whether they can close remains to be seen.