Updated 3:37 p.m.| Senate Republicans named Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Sen.-elect Ted Cruz of Texas to serve as vice chairmen of the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Wednesday.
The duo will support the NRSC’s newly elected chairman, Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, who ran unopposed for the gig. Portman will be vice chairman of finance, and Cruz will be vice chairman for grass roots.
Senate Republicans also voted this morning to elevate Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to be minority whip and re-elected Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as minority leader. This is the fourth leadership election in which McConnell has been unopposed for the post.
Sen. Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida both spoke on McConnell’s behalf in the meeting before the election was held, according to their respective staffs. “Mitch unifies all of us, regardless of philosophy or what part of the country we come from. He’s the smartest political mind around and a great listener,” Rubio said in his speech. “Above all else, what Mitch cares about is whether we succeed as a conference and as a country, and that’s why I’m proud to nominate him for another term as leader.”
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota was re-elected as Republican Conference chairman. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri was re-elected as Republican Conference vice chairman and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming was re-elected as Republican policy committee chairman. None of the leadership posts was contested.
Democrats face a daunting cycle in 2014, when the party must defend 20 seats — many of which are in traditionally conservative states such as Alaska and South Dakota. But the NRSC was plagued by divisive primaries during the past two cycles, costing the party at least five seats. The Senate GOP must win six seats to take the majority.
The new NRSC structure is intended to alleviate two of the committee’s biggest challenges next cycle: fundraising and navigating difficult primaries.
Republicans view Cruz as a darling of the tea party and conservative wing of the GOP. He defeated a wealthy and well-known candidate, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in the runoff this summer and easily won his first term in the Senate last week.
Portman turned down requests from his colleagues to run for the NRSC post. Republicans view him as a strong fundraiser with a lucrative donor base in southern Ohio and nationwide.
There’s been some quiet grumbling that Moran doesn’t come from a state with a strong donor base, which could make it difficult to bring in big bucks in the 2014 cycle.
Cornyn’s rise comes despite a difficult time as NRSC chairman, a position that is charged with electing more Republicans to the Senate. Senate Republicans lost a net of two seats Nov. 6 after initially being favored to pick up the majority. In the end, Democrats swept the majority of competitive races including in Indiana and Massachusetts, and Republicans missed opportunities for pickups in Missouri, Montana, Indiana and North Dakota.
The losses led to brief talk of a change in leadership, but no threat materialized after Thune — the current GOP conference chairman — decided to run for re-election to his current leadership post.
But Cornyn supporters note that his record is a strong one. During the past two cycles during which he was NRSC chairman, Republicans have picked up a net of five seats, including two Latinos and two female senators.
Before announcing last week that he would stay put, Thune had said he was considering challenging Cornyn or running for NRSC chairman.
David M. Drucker contributed to this report.