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Cornyn Already Putting Up Drapes at NRSC

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) was elected chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Tuesday morning, and by the afternoon, he was over at the NRSC headquarters making phone calls and preparing to lead his Conference into President-elect Barack Obama’s first midterm election.

Cornyn’s first move as chairman was to hire Rob Jesmer as the committee’s executive director. No other hires were announced, but a Republican source said a premium has been put on quickly naming a political director and a finance director. Jesmer most recently managed Cornyn’s Nov. 4 victory over state Rep. Rick Noriega (D).

Cornyn has indicated to his Senate GOP colleagues that he is open to leading the NRSC in the 2012 cycle as well, should they be interested in electing him to a second term, according to a Republican source.

“I intend to hit the ground running and start laying the ground work with my colleagues for Republican victories in 2010,” Cornyn said in a statement. “We must ensure our Party has the candidates and the financial resources to effectively communicate our positive vision for our country. There is simply no time to waste, and I will work as hard as possible in my capacity as NRSC Chair to help move our Party forward.”

The current NRSC staff, led by Chairman John Ensign (Nev.), is maintaining ownership of the committee through the end of the year, including supervision of GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ Dec. 2 runoff election in Georgia and GOP Sen. Norm Coleman’s recount in Minnesota.

Cornyn’s task won’t be easy. But he is hoping to the lay the groundwork for the following cycle. In 2010, 19 Republicans seats are up, compared with only 15 for the Democrats. In 2012, when Obama would presumably be running for re-election, there will be 24 Democratic seats up, compared with just nine for the GOP.

The Senator’s access to Texas’ wealth of high-rolling Republican donors could help his effort immensely, particularly given the fact that the GOP lost the White House and is now a distinct Congressional minority in both chambers. Cornyn’s goals for this cycle include modernizing how the NRSC raises money and improving its candidate recruitment.

Despite involving himself mostly in policy matters since arriving in the Senate in 2003, Cornyn is said to enjoy politics. His allies say the junior lawmaker looks forward to helping the Republicans put a dent in a Democratic Senate majority that could still reach 60 seats next year after three outstanding races from the Nov. 4 elections are complete.

“Even though he is viewed as more of an academic policy guy, he enjoys campaigning — enjoys battle of ideas,” the Republican source said. “He’s pretty excited.”

Of the Republican seats up for re-election in 2010, several are in states where the Democrats have made inroads in recent elections, or have at least shown an ability to compete.

The potential GOP targets in the next election include Sens. Kit Bond (Mo.), Jim Bunning (Ky.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Gregg Judd (N.H.), Mel Martinez (Fla.), Arlen Specter (Pa.) and George Voinovich (Ohio).

Democrats also will be looking to field tough candidates for open seats in states like Kansas, where popular Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) might run to replace a retiring Sen. Sam Brownback (R). Should Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) choose to retire in 2010, popular Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) could make this seat very competitive for the Democrats.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is still in the hands of two-time Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.). Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.) was expected to be named as Schumer’s successor this week, but a decision has been delayed.

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