The GOP leadership elections forced by Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott’s (R-Miss.) unexpected resignation Monday appear to have gelled, with the candidates declared and the balloting ready to begin as early as next week.
Republican leaders have not yet finalized the exact timing of the elections to replace Lott and fill the other vacancies that are likely to ensue. But it appears next week is a strong possibility for intraparty voting — at least for what’s going to be an uncontested bid by GOP Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.) to succeed Lott as the No. 2 Republican leader.
One option under consideration is for Republican Senators to meet on two separate occasions to hold votes — first to consider Kyl’s election as Whip, and later for the remaining contested races. Such a move would give those Senators in competitive races more time to campaign and get face time with their colleagues.
But one senior GOP aide cautioned that no decisions have been made: “Right now, staff is researching procedures and precedent in order to be certain that Senators have that information before them when they sit down to determine how the elections will progress.”
The path was cleared for Kyl to climb one slot in the hierarchy to Whip after Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) announced late Monday that he also would not launch a bid for the job. Instead, Alexander said he will vie for Kyl’s post as Conference chairman, entering a crowded field that includes Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Richard Burr (N.C.).
Alexander, Hutchison and Burr could be joined by a fourth contender in Sen. John Thune (S.D.), now the Chief Deputy Whip under Lott, but Thune is also considering running for the Policy Committee chairmanship if Hutchison — who holds that post now — runs for and wins the top Conference position.
With that in mind, the Conference job may turn out to be the only contested race facing Republicans. According to GOP leadership sources, Hutchison doesn’t have to abandon her spot as the head of the Policy Committee to run for the Conference job — meaning that if she fails in her bid to succeed Kyl, she can simply keep her policy post.
If, however, Hutchison wins the Conference chairwomanship, a series of additional elections likely would be held. Thune and Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), who is now the No. 5 leader as Conference vice chairman, are the only two expected rivals for that job.
Finally, if Cornyn were successful in moving up to the Policy Committee post, Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.) has said he will run for Cornyn’s vice chairmanship. He is the only declared candidate for that job.