Mississippi’s Wicker to lead GOP’s defense of Senate majority in 2016

Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker gained a senior party leadership position Thursday, winning the post of chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a key fundraising job that he acknowledged will send him hopscotching the country.

The second-term Mississippi senator’s victory margin over Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada wasn’t revealed. The voting is done by secret ballot. Both candidates had campaigned vigorously for the post over the past week.

Wicker steps into a daunting job. While Republicans swept into the Senate majority in this year’s elections, they must defend 24 of the 34 seats up for election in 2016. 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.

The senatorial committees were hardly the only source of money aiding candidates’ campaigns. Groups that are not required to disclose their donors spent hundreds of millions of dollars in this year’s campaign, mostly in support of conservative candidates.

In party fundraising, the Democrats led despite suffering net losses of at least eight Senate seats in the Nov. 4 elections. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $125.5 million, compared with $96.7 million for the Republican Senatorial Committee, reports to the Federal Election Commission show.

“We can’t let that happen again,” Wicker said in a phone interview. “I think our donor base now is going to be energized. They’re going to believe in us now because we’ve proved we can do it. That is in stark contrast to where we were two years ago.”

After Republicans lost the presidency in 2012 and lost Senate seats “where we should have held our own,” he said, “it took our donors about six months to come around to the belief that this could be a good cycle for us.”

Now, he said, “we’re in a better position to jump out there with early money. . . . I intend to roll up my sleeves immediately to ensure that we have the resources available to preserve our Republican majority.”

Wicker’s move puts a Mississippi senator into a senior leadership job in the Senate Republican caucus for the first time since Sen. Trent Lott stepped down as minority leader in 2002. Lott surrendered to public pressure after making controversial comments praising South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign that hoped to preserve segregation by challenging the civil rights movement.

Wicker, who won a special election to replace Lott in 2008, already serves as deputy whip for the Republicans in the Senate.

Wicker brushed off a question about whether the position, the sixth-highest ranking position in the Republican conference, could help him achieve higher ambitions.

“I have applied for a two-year stint in a very tedious job,” he said. “It is event after event, airplane after airplane, city and state after city and state and hour after hour on the phone. That’s what I’m concentrating on.”

Then, he noted, he’ll then be “all about getting my own self re-elected” in the 2018 cycle.

Wicker was in a strong position to win Thursday’s balloting because he already has been an active player in the Republican committee. Over the last 22 months, he has participated in over 40 of its fundraising events across the country, raising more than $2.2 million, seventh most in the caucus.