Elections

Next up for Sen. John Cornyn of Texas: Majority whip?

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, June 6, 2014.
Texas Sen. John Cornyn, June 6, 2014. MCT

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who breezed to re-election by more than 27 percentage points Tuesday and watched Republicans regain majority control of the Senate, is now looking at winning another election: next week’s leadership vote for majority whip.

Cornyn, 62, the minority whip, has been deferential to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the likely Senate majority leader, who himself just won a closely watched re-election contest. Cornyn was elected GOP whip in 2012 with McConnell’s support.

Speaking to reporters in Louisville, McConnell said that he would win the leadership election Nov. 13, which will be decided by the Republican senators who will serve in the 114th Congress beginning in January. That will include the seven state pick-ups on Tuesday, and possibly more, with three undecided Senate races as of Wednesday afternoon.

But the other Texas Republican senator, Ted Cruz, at least clouded the picture a bit by refusing to say in media interviews if he would support McConnell. Cruz led last year’s controversial federal government shutdown that McConnell promised again Wednesday would not be repeated.

“I wouldn’t expect Cruz to be very effective in the conference,” said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

McConnell also said that he had called Cruz, among other senators, causing a ripple of laughter at the news conference. Cruz is exploring a presidential run in 2016 and has frequently been at odds with the GOP leader.

A Republican strategist who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely, scoffed at the idea of a Cruz-led revolt against McConnell, saying the junior senator had “zero clout” in the conference, or that his tactics would impact Cornyn, who Cruz failed to endorse during the primary season.

In a statement Wednesday, Cornyn, who raised more than $3 million for close Senate races, looked forward to being in the majority.

“The message sent last night from the American people is loud and clear: Washington is broken, the big government experiment has failed, and the time has come for fresh leadership and a new direction for the country,” he said.

He added that Republicans were “humbled” by their victories and characterized the majority as “an opportunity.”

“Under the leadership of Majority Leader McConnell, we will work with the Republican-led House to focus on pro-growth legislation that strengthens our economy, relieves Americans from the burdens of Obamacare, grows America’s energy industry and secures a better future for the generations ahead,” he said.

Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston, said he thinks Cornyn will stick to the script laid out with McConnell. “Ted Cruz has his own agenda,” he said. “You couldn’t find two more different ways of running the Senate. Cornyn is a team player, Cruz has his agenda.”

And Cornyn, who has chafed under the Democratic rule of current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will be in charge of rounding up votes to secure Republican victories.

“There’s got to be a certain vindication here,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Now Cornyn gets the real benefits of being in the majority. That gives him a lot of room to maneuver.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story wrongly attributed the comments contained in paragraph 7 about the possibility of Sen. Ted Cruz leading a revolt against Sen. Mitch McConnell as the new majority leader. The comments came from a Republican strategist, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.

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