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Leadership Races Firming Up; Thune, Murkowski Clearing Field

Sen. John Thune (S.D.) is expected to run unopposed to replace Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) as the Republican Policy Committee chairman. “Sen. Thune has received encouragement from his colleagues but continues to reach out and talk to them,— spokesman Kyle Downey said. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) confirmed Thursday that she will run for vice chairwoman of the Conference, the post currently held by Thune. It is unclear whether Murkowski would face competition for the vice chairmanship. Sens. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Richard Burr (N.C.), whose names were earlier floated as possible candidates for the vice chairmanship, have each ruled out a bid. “Yes, I have been speaking with colleagues and plan to announce my intentions,— Murkowski said. The openings in the Senate GOP leadership hierarchy occurred after Ensign announced he would step down as policy chairman. Ensign shocked his colleagues when he acknowledged in a Tuesday news conference that he had an affair with a former campaign aide.The Senate leadership election will be June 25. Several Republican sources have predicted that Thune and Murkowski will ultimately run uncontested. “The vice chair race could still evolve, but it doesn’t appear that policy [chairman] will be an issue,— one knowledgeable Senate GOP aide said. No other Senators have been mentioned as possible candidates for the chairmanship. Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) briefly considered a campaign but then immediately decided against it, saying he had too much on his plate. Hatch said he would support Thune.

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