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Senate leadership race

How top contenders to replace McConnell are spending their summer

For the first time in nearly 20 years, there’s a different November contest that will have massive implications on Capitol Hill — the race to succeed Mitch McConnell as Senate Republican leader.

So we wanted to take a look at how the three leading contenders — Senate Minority Whip John Thune, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) — are spending their summers in and away from the Capitol to boost their leadership bids.

Their efforts center on fundraising and getting as much face time as possible with GOP candidates and in-cycle incumbents, including at the RNC convention in Milwaukee in July.

The leadership election takes place in late November by secret ballot, so senators don’t have to publicize their vote if they don’t want to. But of course, Donald Trump could still have a lot of influence on the outcome, especially if he defeats President Joe Biden.

Thune: The South Dakota Republican will be hitting the battleground states for events and fundraisers for some of the party’s top Senate recruits. That includes Tim Sheehy in Montana, Mike Rogers in Michigan, Larry Hogan in Maryland and Sam Brown in Nevada. Next week he’ll be in Ohio with Bernie Moreno, the GOP nominee taking on Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

A source familiar with Thune’s political operation told us the senator has raised more than $16 million so far in the 2024 cycle. He’s also brought in more for the NRSC this cycle than any other Republican senator, except NRSC Chair Steve Daines, and is one of the most consistent attendees at NRSC-sanctioned events and fundraisers.

On the legislative front, Thune’s focus as GOP whip has been on Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s bid to use “show” votes this summer to put Republicans in a politically uncomfortable spot. Thune has kept Republicans largely united in opposing the Schumer-led votes.

Cornyn: The Texan, who preceded Thune as Senate GOP whip, continues to be a fundraising juggernaut for his party. This is a major selling point for his candidacy.

Cornyn has raised an impressive $20 million so far this cycle, matching his total for the entire 2022 cycle. He’s also the top NRSC fundraiser this calendar year aside from Daines.

strong>Last weekend, Cornyn headlined a fundraiser for Moreno. Cornyn plans to travel to several of the other battlegrounds, while he’ll also see millions of dollars poured into his home state with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) up for reelection.

Legislatively, Cornyn has taken a leading role in condemning Schumer’s floor strategy for the summer, urging him to instead use the time to pass the annual defense policy bill as the number of legislative days dwindles. He’s also been a leading critic of the Senate’s shortened work weeks, vowing that things will be different if Republicans are in charge next year.

Scott: The Florida Republican, who chaired the NRSC last cycle, is in a unique position here because he’s also running for his Senate reelection. While he’s favored to win reelection, Scott isn’t taking any chances. He plans to focus on his own race rather than campaigning for others.

Will Hampson, a Scott campaign aide, told us that the Floridian will hit all 67 of the state’s counties by August.

“He’s excited to talk with Floridians about why we need major change in Washington and why he’s the man to bring that sea change,” Hampson said.

At the Capitol, Scott sometimes finds himself partnering with Democrats, especially on efforts to counter China.

But his weekly updates on inflation are of particular interest to GOP senators. Each quarter, Scott prints and distributes an economic snapshot to Republicans at their lunch meetings. This, of course, is one of the GOP’s core messages to voters this year.

— Andrew Desiderio

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