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Cole Intensifies Push for NRCC Chair

The latest salvo in the marathon race to decide who will be the next National Republican Congressional Committee chairman is being fired this week, with Rep. Tom Cole’s (R-Okla.) whip team set to go public with its campaign to generate support for his candidacy.

The nine-member group is planning to send a letter to House Republicans making the case for why Cole is best qualified to lead the committee next cycle.

Three Republicans are vying for the job currently held by Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.): Cole and Reps. Pete Sessions (Texas) and Phil English (Pa.).

“We think it’s an appropriate time to push a little bit on this — of course, this race has already been under way for some period of time,” said Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), the member of Cole’s whip team who spearheaded the letter.

She added: “We want people to think about this through the holiday season, as we go into the first of the year.”

The two-page missive from “Team Cole” emphasizes the Congressman’s past political experience in making the case for why he should be the next NRCC chairman.

“I just think his résumé really sets him apart,” Miller said. “My pitch is that Tom Cole is one of the very best political operatives on the floor.”

Cole said the letter is part of his strategy to develop a campaign “that builds over time.” He also said that interest in the race is increasing as Members begin thinking more about politics heading into an election year.

Both Miller and Cole estimate that between the three candidates, the support of about half of the Republican Conference is already locked up, with the remaining 115 or so Members up for grabs.

The NRCC election is not slated to take place until November 2006, after the conclusion of the midterm elections. If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote on the first ballot, the top two finishers would continue to a runoff.

The other candidates in the race are also aggressively campaigning within the GOP Conference, although both seem more content to run their race behind the scenes at this point.

Sessions has doled out $151,000 so far this cycle to 30 GOP Members and candidates through his political action committee, PETE PAC. He has given the NRCC $15,000 and held individual events for 11 incumbents, raising a total of $268,000. He raised $80,000 for then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) at a Dallas event in June.

Next week Sessions, along with Reps. Jim McCrery (R-La.) and Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), is hosting a Challengers Helping Our Majority Program (CHOMP) event aimed at raising $75,000 each for seven GOP challengers.

Neither Sessions nor English has publicly released a list of Members working on his behalf.

In addition to Miller, Cole’s whip team is comprised of: Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite (Fla.), Chris Chocola (Ind.), Virginia Foxx (N.C.), Darrell Issa (Calif.), Frank Lucas (Okla.), Patrick McHenry (N.C.), Jeff Miller (Fla.) and Devin Nunes (Calif.).

The letter also lays out some of the priorities Cole would emphasize as NRCC chairman, including diversifying recruitment to include more women and candidates who “will better represent the broad-based strength of our party” and putting an enhanced focus on redistricting in preparation for the next redrawing of lines after 2010.

Cole served as executive director of the NRCC in the 1992 cycle and as chief of staff at the Republican National Committee during the 2000 cycle. For 16 years, he was a partner and helped run an Oklahoma-based political consulting and poling firm.

He was elected to Congress in 2002 and since then has raised more than $1 million for Republican candidates and causes.

Through his political action committee COLE PAC, Cole has given $118,500 to GOP Members and candidates so far this year, $87,500 of which he doled out since Labor Day.

While Miller and the rest of the whip team is primarily focused on selling Cole’s breadth of experience, she also noted a light-hearted footnote in her pitch for Cole: If elected, he would be the third man in a row named Tom to head the committee. Rep. Tom Davis (Va.) served as chairman for the 2000 and 2002 cycles.

“The third Tom is a charm,” Miller said. “You know what they say.”