Sen. Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) is actively considering an 11th-hour bid to chair the National Republican Senatorial Committee, setting up a potential clash with Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.), who has been openly stumping for the job since the spring.
Making clear that Dole had reached no final decision, aides confirmed that she has been meeting with other Senators to discuss a run for the NRSC chairmanship. The election for the position is scheduled for mid-November.
Compared to Coleman, Dole would be starting the race late and likely far behind in terms of commitments.
But Dole — a national figure from her two stints in Republican Cabinets, a presidential campaign in 2000 and her marriage to former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) — says she is being encouraged to run by fellow Senators who think her star appeal is the right fit for the job.
“Senator Dole has been approached by and met with lawmakers regarding her interest in the NRSC chair position,” Brian Nick, her spokesman, said in a statement. “They have emphasized her national appeal and fundraising prowess as reasons for her to run.
“She certainly hasn’t ruled out a run,” Nick added.
While some Senators had expected Coleman to have a clear path to the chairmanship, Dole could pose a notable challenge. Dole has stepped up her political activity during the past few months, particularly on behalf of Senate Republicans and the NRSC.
A few weeks ago, Dole signed a direct-mail piece for the NRSC that was designed to generate small-dollar donors in advance of Wednesday’s “Senate Majority Celebration,” an event chaired by Dole that GOP operatives hope will raise more than $3 million.
“Since my first days in the Senate I have been struck by the negative tone and political posturing of the Democrats,” Dole wrote. “They have clearly placed partisanship and politics ahead of good policy and progress.”
She has stumped for seven Senators or Senate candidates running this fall and is chairing Rep. Richard Burr’s (R-N.C.) Senate campaign. An event on behalf of former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez (R), who faces former state Education Commissioner Betty Castor (D), is being finalized for some time next month in Florida.
President Bush’s campaign team has also dispatched Dole to several battleground states, including stops in Kansas City and St. Louis following the GOP convention — a period when Missouri was still considered a pivotal state in the presidential campaign.
With such a high profile prior to entering the Senate, Dole would seem to be a natural for some leadership position. But, Nick said, home-state interests are weighing heavily on any Dole decision about jumping into a leadership position.
“She is honored that colleagues would consider her, but wants to make sure that her North Carolina priorities can get the attention they deserve,” he said.
Dole, 68, lived in Washington most of her adult life before returning to North Carolina to run for Senate in 2002. She overcame charges of being a carpet-bagger to win the seat with 54 percent of the vote, though North Carolina Democrats may lob that accusation at her again should she take the reins at the NRSC.
Coleman, 55, has openly pursued the post since the spring, lining up support from a number of colleagues. His base of support comes from fellow freshman Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Jim Talent (Mo.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). But a number of Senate veterans are also believed to be behind Coleman’s bid, GOP sources said.
Coleman’s office declined to comment about the status of his campaign, but his supporters remain confident that a majority of his Conference will support him for the position.
Coleman has left nothing to chance, however, and is actively helping with campaigns this fall. In late August he took over a new joint-fundraising committee, the Majority Fund for America’s Future, which is being run through the NRSC and is targeting cash to two incumbent races and nine challenger or open-seat races.
About a dozen Coleman aides or supporters are being dispatched to Alaska for the final days of the campaign between Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) and former Gov. Tony Knowles (D). A half-dozen or more will be sent to South Dakota, where Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) is locked in a tight race with former Rep. John Thune (R).
Coleman’s political action committee, Northstar Leadership PAC, is one of the largest for freshman Senators, having handed out $76,500 in contributions to candidates and GOP committees as of June 30.
Dole’s PAC, the Leadership Circle, got a late start earlier this year and had given out $29,000 in donations by June 30. However, Dole had quickly amassed the largest amount of cash raised, more than $518,000, of any freshman Senator and was sitting on $223,000 in cash on hand to dish out in the final months before the fall elections.
Coleman’s PAC, which has been operating since early in 2003, raised about $375,000 in the first 18 months of the cycle and had $136,000 left in its account.