Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s concession to attorney Joe Miller Tuesday in the Alaska Senate primary could spark a race to succeed her as Republican Conference vice chairman — and it positions Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.) to become the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the 112th Congress.
The Republicans mentioned by GOP aides as contenders to replace Murkowski on the leadership team — Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Mike Johanns (Neb.) — were not talking Wednesday morning.
But of those four, Barrasso and Johanns are viewed as the most likely to seek the Conference vice chairmanship, with a Senate aide confirming that Barrasso “is very interested” and is likely to run. Johanns’ office declined to comment; Coburn and Collins offices had not yet responded to inquiries.
Collins has seniority, is a woman, and is more philosophically conservative than her moderate voting record suggests. However, Republicans believe she would ultimately decline to run because winning the vice chairmanship would create internal pressure for her to vote more in lock step with the GOP leadership.
Coburn’s candidacy would be applauded by the conservatives within the Conference, particularly newcomers who win election this November. But sources familiar with Coburn’s thinking say he isn’t interested. Coburn has a good relationship with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the leadership team, but often goes his own way on key votes.
Burr is currently the second-ranking Republican on Energy and Natural Resources, and will succeed Murkowski as ranking member as long as he wins re-election in November. On Wednesday, a Burr aide declined to speculate on how Murkowski’s loss might affect the North Carolina Republican’s committee assignments next year.
“Senator Burr is focused on his current duties in the Senate and his re-election campaign. It is far too early to speculate about any possible changes for the 112th Congress,” Burr’s Senate spokesman, David Ward, said.