Congress

Sen. Cornyn campaigns for a GOP majority and a powerful perch for himself

Texas Sen. John Cornyn speaks during the Texas Republican Convention at the Fort Worth Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas, on Friday, June 6, 2014.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn speaks during the Texas Republican Convention at the Fort Worth Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas, on Friday, June 6, 2014. MCT

Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s re-election campaign looks to be in comfortable shape as Tuesday’s voting approaches, but the Texan is still pushing hard because as his party’s political prospects rise and fall, so do his own.

If the GOP wins enough Senate seats to wrest the majority from the Democrats, then Cornyn, currently the second-most powerful Senate Republican, could be on a path for even greater political authority.

An energized Cornyn is campaigning hard for a third term, crisscrossing the state before Tuesday’s midterm elections.

He’ll be in Fort Worth on Wednesday, where he’ll appear at a rally with Texas Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott. The get-out-the-vote event is from 9-11 a.m. at the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, 128 East Exchange Ave.

Then the 62-year-old lawmaker is off to an event in his hometown, San Antonio.

His calendar is packed with back-to-back events until Election Day, despite a lackluster Democratic challenge from Dallas dentist David Alameel.

Cornyn is ahead by nearly 22 percentage points, according to an average of recent polls by Real Clear Politics, a nonpartisan website. But he’s also focused on the other race that matters: control of the Senate.

“Obviously, I’ve been paying attention to my own race, but I, fortunately, have had flexibility,” he said in an interview with McClatchy.

“I’ve spent quite a bit of time and energy” helping candidates, he said. “I really would prefer to be in the majority. I haven’t been in the majority since 2008, and it isn’t a lot of fun.”

The party in power controls all of the Senate committees and calls the shots on what legislation – if any – is brought to a vote. Cornyn can now feel that a shift in power is almost in his hands. Republicans, who now hold 45 seats, need a net gain of six to take over the majority from the Democrats.

“I’m very excited about what’s going to happen,” Cornyn said. “I’m growing increasingly confident. We will pick up at least six (seats) and maybe more.”

As Senate minority whip, Cornyn is second in command to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, whose own race for re-election next week is closer than his own. The Texan would like keep the whip’s post, which he has held for two years, if his party takes power in January. But he would have to stand for election by his fellow Republican senators when the parties choose leaders following next week’s voting.

With no challenge to his perch on the horizon, Cornyn is concentrating on growing the GOP ranks: bringing Republicans to Texas, traveling to other states, headlining fundraisers, connecting candidates to contributors, conferring on party messaging, and improving websites and get-out-the vote techniques.

“Texas is a big, generous red state,” said Cornyn. “I’ve hosted candidates at events, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, you name it, to get them the resources they need to be successful.”

According to his campaign consultant Brian Walsh, Cornyn has raised more than $3 million so far this cycle, including contributions from his own political action committee, for other Senate contests. In his own race, he has raised nearly $22 million and spent $18.3 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group.

The Texas senator has hit the road, traveling to battleground races in North Carolina, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Colorado and Kansas. He has a pretty consistent pitch.

“Usually I tell them, ‘This isn’t just a race that’s up to you and your state. This race is important to the country,’” he said.

Cornyn has a close personal tie to his party’s candidate in New Hampshire, Scott Brown, who in 2010 won a Massachusetts Senate seat after the death of Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy. He was aided by a big assist from Cornyn, who chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee at the time.

He thinks that Brown, who moved to New Hampshire after losing re-election in 2012, is going to pull it off again in his challenge to Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who has been leading in most polls. The spread is now within the margin of error, according to Real Clear Politics.

“It all comes down to turnout,” he said.

Cornyn is chairing the “Target State Victory Committee,” a joint project among the Republican election committees to raise $2 million to send to state parties for get-out-the vote efforts in targeted states.

Cornyn has contributed $350,000 from his leadership PAC to Senate candidates and national party committees. He helped raise an additional $1 million so far for 18 Senate candidates, said Walsh, his political consultant, including $113,000 for Colorado’s Rep. Cory Gardner, who is now leading Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in recent polls.

Another possible pickup is in Louisiana, where Cornyn raised $113,000 for Republican Rep.. Bill Cassidy, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu. Currently a three-way race with a second Republican, Rob Maness, running with tea party support, the contest is expected to end up in a runoff between Landrieu and Cassidy, which appears to favor the GOP.

In North Carolina, he’s raised $80,000 for state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who’s in a tight race against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

Cornyn, a former judge, is typically low-key, and his appearance in Kansas on behalf of incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts was all but forgotten by the presence months later of his fiery fellow Texan, Sen. Ted Cruz, who stoked up a crowd for Roberts earlier in October.

Cornyn said that Cruz has his following, but for Texas’ senior senator, it’s all about the Senate. Cruz is laying the groundwork for a possible presidential run in 2016.

“In the Senate, the whip tends to have a good chance of becoming party leader at some point down the road,” said Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election website at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

He noted that both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, and McConnell had both served as whips.

“It’s no sure thing,” Skelly said, “but it has been a road to leadership’s top spot many times before.”

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