WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas ascended to the chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee on Wednesday in a unanimous vote by his colleagues on Capitol Hill.
Moran ran unopposed for the influential post, a key party-leadership position that puts him at the forefront of Republican efforts to gain control of the Senate in the next midterm election. As the chairman of the committee, Moran must recruit quality candidates and raise money for them. He also will be expected to funnel cash to incumbents who are up for re-election, a list that includes prominent colleagues such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The job comes with heavy responsibility to reinvigorate a Senate Republican caucus in disarray after bitter losses last week. Republicans will have to defend 13 seats and capture at least six from Democrats to gain the majority in the upper chamber in 2014.
Nothing about the 2014 election will be easy for Republicans, Moran said in an interview. We start with two less seats than we had before, so it is a recognition that theres a lot of work to be done. Its a recognition that its a difficult challenge, and Im ready to put Kansas common sense to work, to put a work ethic in place that moves us toward that goal.
Immediately after his election Wednesday morning, Moran stepped into the limelight at a Republican news conference on Capitol Hill.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, Moran introduced himself to a battery of reporters, photographers and television cameras as the new member of this group.
We certainly will work hard that good things happen in a political sense for Republican senators, Moran said. But I fully recognize that the success of politics follows governing well, so Im looking forward to working with Sen. McConnell and others within our conference to make sure that were making the right decisions on behalf of America, so that if we do our jobs well as U.S. senators, good things will happen in the political realm as well.
Moran won the chairmanship despite some grumblings from anonymous Republican aides, who raised concerns in Capitol Hill newspapers that he might not be the best choice to head such an important committee. Some Republican senators reportedly had urged Ohio Sen. Rob Portman to challenge Moran for the chairmanship. Portman, who generated buzz this year as a possible vice-presidential candidate, boasts a more established national profile than Moran does and better fundraising chops.
It is a challenge coming from a state like ours, Moran acknowledged. Were not known for significant wealth, and our population is smaller than many states. Many Kansans are not accustomed to giving to political parties. To most Kansans, $100 is a lot of money. . . . Certainly there is the challenge, but as long as I have the cooperation from my colleagues, I dont see that as a detriment. In fact, I see it as a positive.
Perhaps with that in mind, Moran asked Portman to serve as the committees vice chairman for finance.
Portman agreed, and told him hed never had any intention of running for the chairmanship, Moran said.
Moran said hed also asked Sen.-elect Ted Cruz of Texas serve as the committees vice chairman for grass-roots operations and political outreach.
Moran decided to make a play for the chairmanship about six months ago after consulting with former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole.
Ive only been a senator for two years, but it troubles me that were not doing the things that are necessary to govern, Moran said. We havent passed a budget; we havent done an appropriations process. The things that are just the nuts and bolts that one would expect of a Congress each and every year havent occurred. So this (decision to run for chairman) was a belief that we need to make sure that we have leadership in place that is willing to make the necessary decisions.
Moran added that his priority remains Kansas.
Kansans are the ones who elected me, he said. My interest in politics is based upon a deep respect for Kansans, a love of our state. And in my view the opportunity to serve in a leadership capacity is helpful to Kansas. To be in the room where decisions are discussed and in some instances made is a useful thing to Kansans, and so I see this as a benefit to my constituents.
Republican strategist Jeff Roe of Kansas City, Mo., said Morans uncontested election to the chairmanship sent a strong statement that he had the trust of his fellow senators.
These are typically pretty aggressively hard-fought contests, so what a stamp of approval from his colleagues about the faith they have in him, Roe said.