Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker won election Thursday as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a key fundraising position and the sixth-highest ranking leadership job in the party’s Senate caucus.
The second-term Mississippi senator captured more votes than his rival, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, but the margin of victory wasn’t revealed. The voting is done by secret ballot. Both candidates had campaigned vigorously for the post over the past week.
While Republicans swept into the Senate majority in this year’s elections, Wicker steps into a daunting job. Republicans must defend 24 of the 34 seats up for election in 2016, and the fundraising committee can play a crucial role in tight races by channeling extra cash to campaign committees and independently airing ads attacking Democratic candidates or supporting Republicans.
Wicker’s move puts a Mississippi senator into a senior Senate leadership position for the first time since Sen. Trent Lott resigned as Senate minority leader in 2002 after his controversial comments praising South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign that challenged the civil rights movement.
Wicker, who won a special election to replace Lott in 2008, already serves as deputy whip for the Republican majority in the Senate.
“I am thankful for the confidence and the support of my colleagues,” Wicker said of his victory. “I intend to roll up my sleeves immediately to ensure that we have the resources available to preserve our Republican majority.”
Since Jan. 1, 2013, the Republican senatorial committee has reported raising $81 million, well shy of the Democrats’ $125 million, partly reflecting a shift of conservative donations to outside groups that are not required to identify their contributors.
Wicker was in a strong position to win Thursday’s balloting, because he already has been an active player in the committee. Over the last 22 months, he has participated in over 40 of its fundraising events across the country for the Republican committee, raising more than $2.2 million, seventh most in the caucus, an aide to Wicker said.
In addition, Wicker’s political action committee gave more than $300,000 to Republican candidates. He also led an effort that rounded up $1 million for his fellow Mississippi Republican senator, Thad Cochran, who narrowly survived a runoff primary race this year.