WASHINGTON -- Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran is angling for a key leadership role in the Republican Party, a move that could catapult the 58-year-old politician from Plainville into the national spotlight.
The first-term senator is campaigning for the chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm that’s tasked with electing Republicans to the upper chamber of Congress.
The high-profile, high-pressure gig would be a big step up for Moran, and it would put him at the forefront of Republican efforts to rebound from disappointing losses in last week’s elections. Given the trouncing Republicans suffered, a heavy burden would be placed on the new chairman to produce winners in the next go-round.
Moran told reporters with several Capitol Hill newspapers that he’s been lobbying hard for the job in face-to-face meetings with his colleagues. He believes he has the votes to win.
“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 with The Hill. He declined comment for this article.
As of Tuesday, the scuttlebutt was that Republican leadership favored Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, for the post. Portman, once considered a possible running mate for Mitt Romney, has closer ties to the Republican establishment than Moran and a bigger reputation on the national stage. But a Republican aide close to Portman said he has decided not to run, clearing the way for Moran.
A secret-ballot vote by the Senate Republican Conference is expected on Wednesday. So far, Moran is the only senator openly running for the post.
“He’s been an extraordinary cautious and state-oriented legislator, and this is a real stepping onto the national stage,” said Burdett Loomis, professor of political science at University of Kansas. “It’s a real change of pace for him, and even announcing that you’re interested gets a little more visibility. … I think he looked around at 45 other senators and said, ‘Why not me?’ And that’s the right first question to ask, I think.”
Whoever wins the chairmanship will have his or her work cut out as Republicans look to wrest control of the Senate from Democrats in 2014. They need a net gain of six seats to do so after suffering a net loss of two seats in 2012.
This year’s poor performance especially rankled because both parties had agreed that Republicans had a better opportunity to win the majority.
“We have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party,” said the outgoing NRSC chairman, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, in a sober election night statement. “... Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.”
Twenty Democratic seats and 13 Republican seats will be in play in 2014. Historically, the president’s party is considered vulnerable in such off-year elections, so the advantage should go to Republicans. But after 2012, some see 2014 as another opportunity for the GOP to blow it, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
“You have to have sympathy for the NRSC chairman because the state electorates just won’t listen to him,” Sabato said. “They seem to resent any type of professional political advice and that leads them to nominate unelectable candidates.”