Sen. Moran takes early, and lonely, lead in race for NRSC chairman post

Sen. Jerry MoranJerry MoranOvernight Tech: Tech listens for clues at Sessions hearing | EU weighs expanding privacy rule | Senators blast Backpage execs Senate rejects Paul's balanced budget Republicans add three to Banking Committee MORE (Kan.) is the early favorite to take over as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) after the election. 

The reason? It’s a one-man race. 

The map for Senate Republicans in 2014 looks very favorable, but Moran is the only GOP member who has expressed an interest in the plum job.

Just over 40 days out from Election Day, Moran has begun to call colleagues to secure their support and fend off a possible leadership race. 

Several senators said they have talked to Moran about his ambitions for the job and have not heard from anyone else.  

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The names of Sens. Roy BluntRoy BluntThe new Washington elite schmoozes over lunch The Hill's 12:30 Report Trump told of unsubstantiated Russian effort to compromise him MORE (R-Mo.), Marco RubioMarco RubioGOP, Dems hear different things from Trump Senate committee to vote Monday on Tillerson Tillerson met with top State official: report MORE (R-Fla.) and Bob CorkerBob CorkerHaley ready for UN role despite dearth of foreign policy experience Top Dem: Don’t bring Tillerson floor vote if he doesn’t pass committee Trump’s UN pick threads needle on Russia, NATO MORE (R-Tenn.) have been floated as possible contenders, but all three lawmakers indicated to The Hill they are not interested.

Rubio told The Hill that he has not had any conversations with colleagues about the NRSC chairmanship and was not inclined to pursue it. However, he would not rule out the possibility.  

Sen. Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonOvernight Healthcare: GOP governors defend Medicaid expansion GOP senator: Let's work with Dems to 'fix' ObamaCare Right renews push for term limits as Trump takes power MORE (R-Wis.), who narrowly lost to Blunt in a race to become vice chairman of the Senate GOP conference, said he does not plan to challenge Moran.  

Party leaders have approached Corker in the past about chairing the NRSC because as a former CEO he has a natural rapport with business leaders who fit the committee’s donor profile. But Corker wants to focus on policy, specifically a grand bargain next year to cut the deficit.  

The NRSC chairmanship has been a springboard to the upper ranks of the Senate GOP leadership. 

Former Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) vaulted from the NRSC to Senate majority leader after helping Republicans capture the upper chamber in 2002. McConnell became Senate Republican whip after heading the NRSC in the 1998 and 2000 cycles.  

Moran, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 after serving 14 years in the House, has a reputation for being ambitious throughout his congressional career. The freshman has an accomplished record on agriculture issues and sits on the Appropriations Agriculture subcommittee.  

A spokeswoman for Moran said her boss is concentrating on helping GOP candidates this fall. 

“While he has been encouraged by his colleagues to give the NRSC a serious look, Sen. Moran continues to be focused on making certain Republicans gain a majority in the Senate and win the White House this November,” said Garrette Silverman. “Through his work with FreeState PAC, Sen. Moran is traveling the country to raise money and has given to nearly every Senate candidate this cycle.

“He is also serving as a co-chairman of the Romney Farm and Ranch team,” she added. 

One lawmaker cautioned that another contender could emerge because Republicans feel confident they will retake the Senate in 2014 —if not this cycle. 

“If Obama wins reelection, and it kind of looks that way now, the president’s party traditionally loses seats in the midterm of the second term. The Democrats have to defend more seats than us. All it’s going to take is a chairman who can walk and chew gum to win back the Senate,” said the source.  

Moran could face a challenge from Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanHillary gives Bernie cool reception at Trump inaugural lunch GOP governors defend Medicaid expansion Senators introduce dueling miners bills MORE (Ohio), the low-key Republican freshman who is most known for his policy expertise. Portman served on the deficit-reduction supercommittee this Congress and could immerse himself again in the debt debate next year. 

Portman could have Senate leadership ambitions since being passed over for Mitt Romney’s running mate. He is one of the biggest fundraisers among the Senate Republican freshman class. A Portman aide did not rule out a bid for NRSC chairman.  

“Rob will spend the next month and a half doing everything he can for Romney and [Rep. Paul] Ryan [R-Wis.] in Ohio and to ensure he has as many Republican colleagues as possible with him in the Senate next year. Anything past Election Day will be considered at that point,” said the aide.  

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Freshman Sens. Al FrankenAl FrankenFranken emerges as liberal force in hearings Trump nominees dodge 'climate denier' charge Justice requires higher standard than Sessions MORE (D-Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenTrump poised to reinstate 'global gag rule' on Roe v. Wade anniversary: report Trump country Dem takes risk by skipping swearing-in 5 billion reasons Rex Tillerson is wrong MORE (D-N.H.) could also face tough races. There is the possibility Rockefeller and fellow veteran Sens. Tom HarkinTom HarkinGrassley challenger no stranger to defying odds Clinton ally stands between Sanders and chairmanship dream Do candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? MORE (Iowa) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinJustice requires higher standard than Sessions Warren burns Mnuchin over failure to disclose assets Trump Treasury pick to defend foreclosure record MORE (Ill.) will retire. 

Republicans must defend only 13 seats. The most vulnerable GOP seat might belong to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMeet Trump's secret weapon on infrastructure Senate confirms first nominees of Trump era The new Washington elite schmoozes over lunch MORE (R-Ky.), who has a $6 million war chest and represents a conservative-leaning state. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGraham says he will vote for Tillerson The Hill's 12:30 Report Graham: Trump would make mistake in not punishing Russia MORE (R-S.C.) could come under threat from a conservative challenger. The Club for Growth, a free-market advocacy group, says it might oppose him in the 2014 GOP primary. 

Republicans have seen their chances of winning the Senate this year fall since early last year, when they felt assured of seizing the majority. Their prospects took a hit with the surprise retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-Mo.) controversial statement on rape, which spurred the NRSC and Crossroads GPS, a Republican super-PAC, to pull funding from the Missouri race. 

One GOP senator said there is limited interest in taking over the NRSC because the current chairman, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynGOP eyes new push to break up California court Senate confirms first nominees of Trump era The new Washington elite schmoozes over lunch MORE (Texas), set such a high standard with his grinding work ethic. 

“We see John Cornyn in the airport almost every weekend flying to one part of the country or another,” said another lawmaker. 

Cornyn has benefited from representing Texas, the wealthiest red state in the nation and home to many super-rich conservative donors he can tap to support GOP candidates. A successor could be hard-pressed to match his fundraising productivity. 

Another GOP senator said Moran has a good chance of winning the chairmanship because he is the only person aggressively campaigning for it. 

Moran straddles the divide between Tea Party conservatives and mainstream Republicans. He is a member of the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus but more of a team player than Sens. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rand PaulRand PaulDems blast Trump plans for deep spending cuts Trump team prepares dramatic cuts Paul, Lee call on Trump to work with Congress on foreign policy MORE (R-Ky.), who have clashed with Republican leaders.

Moran last week backed Cornyn’s decision not to spend money to help Akin, while DeMint is pondering getting involved in the race.