Texan seeks to gain Se­nate seats for GOP in 2010

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DON­ALD LAM­BRO

Sen. John Cornyn ar­guably has one of the tough­est po­lit­i­cal jobs in Congress: over­see­ing the Repub­li­can sen­a­to­rial cam­paign ef­fort for 2010 in an elec­tion cy­cle when most an­a­lysts say the GOP will likely lose more Se­nate seats.

It is still early in the two-year midterm cam­paign cy­cle and “the land­scape could change sig­nif­i­cantly. But right now at this point, the Democrats are po­si­tioned to pick up two or three seats,” said vet­eran elec­tions fore­caster Stu­art Rothen­berg.

“His­tory has dealt Cornyn a bad hand. The Repub­li­can brand is dam­aged, they have a num­ber of vul­ner­a­ble open seats. If he can break even in this cy­cle, I’m sure, pri­vately, he’d be thrilled,” Mr. Rothen­berg said.

But the two-term Texas se­na­tor doesn’t see things that way at all.

“I wouldn’t agree with that,” he said of Mr. Rothen­berg’s fore­casts. “Will there be losses? It’s too early to say. If we’re lucky to have the can­di­date re­cruit­ment fall into place, those num­bers will change dra­mat­i­cally.”

He ac­knowl­edged his party faces a tough elec­tion cy­cle that he calls “a mixed bag.” Still, he ex­pects the na­tional po­lit­i­cal land­scape will look a great deal dif­fer­ent in the fall of 2010 than it does now, with Pres­i­dent Obama’s jobap­proval rat­ings top­ping 60 per­cent and Democrats rid­ing high with nearly 60 seats in the Se­nate.

“Given the over­reach­ing of the ad­min­is­tra­tion on spending, bor- row­ing, na­tion­al­iz­ing big sec­tors of our econ­omy, I think the 2010 elec­tions will be a ref­er­en­dum on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s poli­cies,” Mr. Cornyn said in an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Times.”

“Un­em­ploy­ment will re­main very high next year. There is a real dan­ger we will see inflation take off. There will still be mas­sive gov­ern­ment debt, and un­funded li­a­bil­i­ties are loom­ing. [. . . ] I think the econ­omy will re­main weak at a min­i­mum,” he said.

With polls show­ing al­most half of Amer­i­cans al­ready op­posed to Mr. Obama’s $787 bil­lion eco­nomic stim­u­lus pack­age and ex­press­ing doubts it will cre­ate many jobs, Mr. Cornyn said he al­ready sees ev­i­dence that “Obama’s per­sonal pop­u­lar­ity no longer car­ries over into the pop­u­lar­ity of his poli­cies.”

The for­mer at­tor­ney and Texas state Supreme Court jus­tice has risen quickly in his party’s hi­er­ar­chy since his elec­tion in 2002. As chair of the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee, the No. 4 lead­er­ship po­si­tion among Se­nate Repub­li­cans, Mr. Cornyn ad­mit­ted he has been given a tough job, but quickly added he rel­ishes the chal­lenge.

“I didn’t come to Wash­ing­ton to be a wall­flower, but to show what one per­son can do to turn things around. I felt this was the place where I could be most pro­duc­tive,” he said.

Few of his col­leagues were beg­ging to take the chair­man­ship job af­ter the party’s stark losses in the past two elec­tions. Go­ing into 2010, Repub­li­cans must de­fend 19 seats to the Democrats’ 17, in­clud­ing vul­ner­a­ble open Se­nate seats in Mis­souri, New Hamp­shire and Ohio, where vet­eran Repub­li­can in­cum­bents are re­tir­ing.

But Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell told The Wash­ing­ton Times that Mr. Cornyn “ac­tu­ally did want to do it. He didn’t have to be drafted. He’s aware of the chal­lenge and was anx­ious to step up to the plate to do the job.”

“The early in­di­ca­tions are that he’s do­ing it in an out­stand­ing fash­ion. One of the mea­sures of that is money raised. He’s raised al­most 40 per­cent more than his com­mit­tee raised two years ago. The other is can­di­date re­cruit­ment and he’s been ef­fec­tive there,” Mr. McCon­nell said.

Mr. Cornyn’s early re­cruits in- clude for­mer Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion bud­get di­rec­tor Rob Port­man, who is run­ning for the open seat in Ohio; Gov. Char­lie Crist, whom he talked into run­ning for the open seat in Florida; and for­mer Rep. Rob Sim­mons, who is mount­ing a strong chal­lenge to vul­ner­a­ble Demo­cratic Sen. Christo­pher Dodd of Con­necti­cut.

Mr. Cornyn said that next year’s com­pet­i­tive Se­nate races will largely de­pend on can­di­date re­cruit­ment and added there are a num­ber of “top-qual­ity can­di­date re­cruits that we are talk­ing to now con­fi­den­tially.”

“We’re work­ing on a good re­cruit in New Hamp­shire, Mis­souri’s open race is sort­ing it­self out a lit­tle bit, and in places like Colorado we’re still looking for the right [can­di­date],” he said.

The can­di­date woo­ing process is not without its po­lit­i­cal com­pli­ca­tions.

The 57-year-old law­maker ran into a buz­z­saw of crit­i­cism from con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can ac­tivists in Florida when the NRSC quickly en­dorsed Mr. Crist, even though he faces a pri­mary chal­lenge from for­mer Repub­li­can state House Speaker Marco Ru­bio.

Mr. Cornyn said that Mr. Crist asked for the en­dorse­ment, ar­gu­ing the gov­er­nor has the bet­ter chance of keep­ing the seat be­ing va­cated by Sen. Mel Martinez in the GOP col­umn.

Mr. McCon­nell de­fends the early en­dorse­ment, say­ing Mr. Cornyn’s “job is to win. We don’t have sig­nif­i­cant num­bers in the Se­nate, only 40 seats. So he’s work­ing hard to get us over 41, which is the num­ber we need to stop the Democrats” from pass­ing their agenda.

There was sim­i­lar crit­i­cism in party ranks when Mr. Cornyn did not en­dorse con­ser­va­tive anti-tax ad­vo­cate Pat Toomey, a for­mer con­gress­man who will be the likely Repub­li­can nom­i­nee in Penn­syl­va­nia af­ter Sen. Arlen Specter’s de­ci­sion to de­fect to the Democrats. But two weeks ago, Mr. Cornyn qui­etly sent a $5,000 con­tri­bu­tion to the Toomey cam­paign from his own po­lit­i­cal action com­mit­tee.

“I cer­tainly haven’t taken an early en­dorse­ment off the ta­ble but want to talk to leaders in Penn­syl­va­nia first. It’s cer­tainly an op­tion, and I won’t fore­close it, that I would en­dorse him early,” Mr. Cornyn said.

BAR­BARA L. SAL­IS­BURY / THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

On a mis­sion: Sen. John Cornyn

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