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NRSC Plan Gets Freshmen Involved

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) has tapped a dozen Senators, including six elected in November, to lead an expanded portfolio of National Republican Senatorial Committee fundraising programs for the 2012 election cycle.

Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) are serving as liaisons to K Street as co-chairmen of the NRSC’s Policy Board and Senate Council political action committee program. Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and freshman Sen. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) are chairing the low-dollar Network program targeting the younger downtown donor crowd that wants to be involved but doesn’t have the means to write a large personal check.

Cornyn, serving in his second term as NRSC chairman, said Wednesday that he has asked all Republican Senators to make themselves available to headline fundraisers, both in Washington, D.C., and around the country. Acknowledging that most GOP Senators don’t support the committee through transfers of personal campaign funds — unlike their Democratic counterparts — Cornyn said his strategy is intended to compensate for that while still maximizing the fundraising prowess of his Members.

“We’re doing everything we can think of to try to do even better than we did last cycle when it comes to our fundraising,” the Texas Republican said. The NRSC raised $2.86 million in January, had $483,000 in cash on hand and was carrying $6.5 million in debt.

New this cycle are three groups of regional co-chairmen of three Senators each, with each responsible for fundraising in a third of the 50 states. Freshman Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.) comprise one group; freshman Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Sens. James Inhofe (Okla.) and James Risch (Idaho) are another; and Sen. Mike Johanns (Neb.) and freshman Sens. John Hoeven (N.D.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) form yet another.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), who served as NRSC vice chairman in the previous two cycles and put in considerable hours fundraising, plans to remain involved, but at a lower level as he focuses on his re-election race and what could be a competitive primary. John Nau, a wealthy Houston businessman and Cornyn’s national finance chairman, is remaining on board for another cycle, as is the national finance committee of about eight to 10 private-sector individuals.

Cornyn presented his fundraising and political plans for the 2012 cycle Tuesday during the GOP’s weekly caucus lunch that was moved to NRSC headquarters in order to discuss political matters. The NRSC chairman, who last week announced his intention to run for the Whip slot of retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), said the response was positive.

According to a knowledgeable GOP source, Cornyn impressed upon Republican Senators the importance of participating in NRSC fundraising and other activities in order for them to capitalize on the favorable political environment.

The GOP began the 2010 cycle with roughly 40 seats and gained seven, and with 23 Democratic Senators up in 2012 compared with only nine Republicans, the party is well-positioned at this point to win back the majority next year.

The GOP source said that during Tuesday’s caucus lunch, Johanns urged colleagues to participate, telling them that he has a standing hour every week reserved to make NRSC fundraising calls, in addition to the events that he attends. Johanns announced last week that he would run for Conference chairman, which is being vacated by Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), who is running for the caucus’ No. 2 Whip position.

Another Senator to speak out during the lunch was Toomey, who last cycle had announced a primary challenge to then-Sen. Arlen Specter and was immediately embraced by the NRSC when Specter left the GOP to become a Democrat. Toomey lost a close race to Specter in the 2004 GOP primary in the face of heavy opposition from the NRSC and virtually the entire Republican establishment.

Toomey discussed how critical NRSC assistance was to his narrow victory in 2010, and his remarks were described by the GOP source as essentially a preview of the fundraising message that the Pennsylvania Republican will carry to potential donors in his work as a regional co-chairman.

“He was making the point that not all Senators might necessarily have had tough races in the past and don’t realize how important this committee is, but it’s really important that it be successful,” this source said. “That’s another reason why having freshmen like him will be so helpful with fundraising.”

Cornyn said he is hoping to begin changing GOP attitudes about having individual Senators transfer campaign money to the committee as a result of the $1 million transfers made to the NRSC last year by Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and John McCain (Ariz.), substantial contribution made by Burr, and smaller donations delivered by Ayotte, Hoeven and Toomey before they were even sworn into office.

“It seems like the Democrats always do better in that area. But we had some very generous Senators,” Cornyn said. “The more people see how others are stepping up, it creates a little bit of peer pressure and maybe a little more encouragement. That’s my hope, anyway.”

Last cycle, Democratic Senators transferred $10.3 million to the DSCC compared with $4.6 million in Member transfers received by the NRSC. DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil said he expects his committee to enjoy another cycle of strong Member support. The DSCC declined Wednesday to release its January fundraising numbers.

“They are already working hard to ensure the committee has the resources we need to win,” Cecil said.

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