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Can Moran Lead the GOP to Majority?

After Portman drops out of race, Republicans are left with few ideal candidates to helm NRSC

If Senate Republicans are looking for a dream candidate to improve the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s fortunes, they won’t get much of a choice Wednesday, despite their private grumbling.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran appears to be the only option to take the helm of the beleaguered committee — unless another candidate emerges at the last minute before Wednesday morning’s leadership elections. One of the GOP leadership’s preferred candidates for the post, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, ruled out a bid Tuesday.

Moran may be an eager candidate, but he hardly boasts the résumé or fundraising prowess of his recent predecessors. That could be a problem come Election Day 2014.

Next cycle, the NRSC’s challenges are as daunting as its opportunities are plentiful. Divisive primaries plagued the committee over the past two cycles, and it lost at least five seats because of tea party battles that nominated lackluster candidates. But the Senate map couldn’t look much better for the GOP: Democrats must defend 20 of the 33 seats up for re-election in 2014, including senators from conservative states such as Alaska, Montana and South Dakota.

“We need someone who could effectively convince quality candidates to run and then help them raise significant resources,” said a GOP aide who declined to criticize Moran for the record. “It seems unlikely we’ll get that sort of candidate.”

On Tuesday, Sen. Pat Roberts endorsed his fellow Kansas Republican, but he seemed to acknowledge that Moran’s fundraising chops — a key part of the chairman’s gig — have been lacking.

“I don’t think Jerry would try it [if] he didn’t think he could do it,” Roberts said.

Last cycle, Moran transferred $70,000 from his committees to the NRSC, according to a source familiar with the transaction. He also participated in 24 committee fundraising events last cycle.

For much of his seven terms in the House, Moran stockpiled cash for a future Senate bid, but he did make a few five-figure donations to the House GOP’s campaign arm later. But unlike his forerunners, Moran can’t call home for fundraising help.

While chairmen raise significant funds for the committee from national donor networks, it’s helpful for chairmen to hail from states with a lucrative donor base.

For example, outgoing NRSC Chairman John Cornyn represents Texas, the state that Republicans describe as the country’s greatest political ATM. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray hails from Washington state, home to a corridor of wealthy companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Boeing Co.

It’s been a similar case in previous cycles. Sens. Charles E. Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey tapped the New York City financial industry frequently when they ran the DSCC — Schumer in 2006 and 2008 and Menendez in 2010. Former Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., raised money from casinos in Las Vegas.

“The problem is sending that guy to New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville,” one K Street Republican and former Capitol Hill aide said. “No one knows who he is.”

A Moran spokesman did not return a request for an interview. But Moran’s allies argue that conservatives like him, so he’ll be able to navigate the committee’s tricky primary situations. After all, they say, Kansas has served as ground zero for divisive GOP primaries for the past decade.

“Kansas is not Texas from a donor base, but I think he’ll be able to pull it off,” one Moran supporter and Kansas operative said. “Some of this is just going to depend on the field. If there’s a group of candidates that Republican donors are going to get excited about it, fundraising won’t be an issue.”

A longtime lawmaker, Moran started in the Kansas Senate in 1988 and ascended to majority leader in 1995. He successfully ran for the mostly rural western Kansas House district in 1996.

Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

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