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The McConnell successors’ money game

The race to succeed Mitch McConnell as Senate GOP leader, as you probably know by now, centers on a group we coined the “Three Johns.”

That’s Senate Minority Whip John Thune, GOP Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former McConnell whip.

All three have long been making moves to position themselves as prolific fundraisers. This is a key part of the job and one that McConnell has mastered through his massive political operation over the years.

And we’ll start off with some news about McConnell: Outside groups aligned with the Senate GOP leader, including the Senate Leadership Fund, are already outpacing their $400 million haul from last cycle, according to sources familiar with McConnell’s operation.

Each John has gone about the money game in his own unique way. Let’s dive in.

Starting with Thune. The South Dakotan has been particularly active during the early months of the 2024 cycle, according to sources close to his operation.

So far this cycle, Thune has raised more than $5 million for the NRSC, which is second only to Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who chairs the campaign arm. And Thune has $17 million in his campaign account.

Thune has headlined fundraisers for GOP incumbents including Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Roger Wicker (Miss.), as well as for GOP candidates like Sam Brown in Nevada and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.).

We scooped last month that Thune would be headlining an NRSC fundraiser for Brown in Las Vegas on Oct. 28. Brown is a top recruit for the party, and Thune is far from the only sitting Republican senator to help Brown clear the primary field and take on Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) next year.

So far this year, Thune has traveled on behalf of 19 GOP senators, and he has headlined events in Washington for 23 incumbents and candidates.

And just last week, Thune announced at a party meeting that he’d committed $250,000 toward paying off the remaining $500,000 of the NRSC’s debt. Republicans, with contributions from Barrasso and Cornyn, quickly matched it.

Thune, who hails from a small state, also holds the record for the largest single transfer in NRSC history — $2 million in 2016.

On to Barrasso. Publicly available data about the Wyoming Republican’s political operation shows that he brought in more than $2 million in the first three quarters of 2023.

Through the first half of this year, Barrasso’s leadership PAC, Common Values, raised nearly $250,000. The PAC has transferred funds to Republican Sens. J.D. Vance (Ohio), Rick Scott (Fla.), Josh Hawley (Mo.), Kevin Cramer (N.D.) and others — including Banks’ Indiana Senate bid.

It’s important to note that Barrasso has had family obligations that often prevent him from traveling outside of his official Senate duties.

And finally, Cornyn. The Texan’s fundraising prowess is well-established, having chaired the NRSC for two election cycles.

Sources familiar with Cornyn’s political operation tell us that his joint fundraising committee, the Cornyn Victory Committee, has raised $7.82 million so far this year. That includes nearly $1 million last month alone.

Cornyn established the committee at the beginning of the last election cycle as he sought to aid GOP campaigns directly. His fundraising total for the 2022 cycle topped $20 million. Only Scott, the NRSC’s then-chair, and McConnell brought in more.

Over the past decade, Cornyn has been the top Senate GOP fundraiser behind McConnell, per sources familiar with the conference’s money game. Cornyn served as GOP whip under McConnell from 2013 to 2019 and has maintained a similar fundraising pace since then.

Cornyn has put on events for GOP Sens. Pete Ricketts (Neb.), Jim Risch (Idaho), Cruz and several others across the country this cycle, including in Aspen, Colo., and Scottsdale, Ariz. He has also appeared at fundraisers for GOP Sens. Katie Britt (Ala.), Dan Sullivan (Alaska) and Jerry Moran (Kan.).

— Andrew Desiderio

Presented by AARP

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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.