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

Sen. Jerry MoranJerry MoranOvernight Finance: McConnell fast-tracks IRS bills; WH pushes free college tuition The Trail 2016: New Trump same as the old GOP lawmaker passes on Kansas Senate primary challenge 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 BluntOvernight Healthcare: Medicare fight looms on Capitol Hill Senate GOP hardening stance against emergency funding for Zika Senate Dems accuse GOP of walking away from Zika deal MORE (R-Mo.), Marco RubioMarco RubioOvernight Healthcare: First House Republican backs Obama Zika request Time to wake-up to the Venezuelan Crisis First GOP rep backs Obama’s Zika funding request MORE (R-Fla.) and Bob CorkerBob CorkerIran and heavy water: Five things to know Trump seeks approval from foreign policy experts, but hits snags The Trail 2016: The establishment comes around 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 JohnsonSenators urge White House to speed cyber policy updates Mellman: Fissures and factions Encryption commission bill picks up more backers 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 PortmanThe Trail 2016: One-on-one, do-or-die? Ex-primary opponent endorses Strickland in Ohio Poll: Portman, Strickland tied for Ohio Senate 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.  

Democrats will have to defend 20 seats in the 2014 cycle, including several incumbents running in red states: Sens. Max BaucusMax BaucusWyden unveils business tax proposal College endowments under scrutiny The chaotic fight for ObamaCare MORE (Mont.), Mark BegichMark BegichEx-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium Dem ex-lawmakers defend Schumer on Iran MORE (Alaska), Tim JohnsonTim JohnsonOn Wall Street, Dem shake-up puts party at crossroads Regulators fret over FOIA reform bill Senators push back against using guarantee fees to offset spending MORE (S.D.), Mary LandrieuMary Landrieu oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Republican announces bid for Vitter’s seat MORE (La.), Mark PryorMark PryorEx-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood Ex-Sen. Landrieu joins law and lobby firm MORE (Ark.) and Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerLobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner Overnight Tech: Senate panel to vote on Dem FCC commissioner MORE (D-W.Va.).  

Freshman Sens. Al FrankenAl FrankenJudiciary Dems seek hearing on voting rights Senate passes resolution honoring Prince Senators aim to bolster active shooter training MORE (D-Minn.) and Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenCarter pledges probe of sex assault testimony Pentagon looks to reduce billion energy bill Senate looks for easy wins amid 2016 gridlock MORE (D-N.H.) could also face tough races. There is the possibility Rockefeller and fellow veteran Sens. Tom HarkinTom HarkinDo candidates care about our health or just how much it costs? The Hill's 12:30 Report Mark Mellman: Parsing the primary processes MORE (Iowa) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinJudiciary Dems seek hearing on voting rights Elizabeth Warren stumps, raises funds for Duckworth Senators roll out changes to criminal justice bill MORE (Ill.) will retire. 

Republicans must defend only 13 seats. The most vulnerable GOP seat might belong to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellReid: Judiciary a 'rubber stamp' for Trump-McConnell Iran and heavy water: Five things to know Overnight Finance: House rejects financial adviser rule; Obama rebukes Sanders on big banks MORE (R-Ky.), who has a $6 million war chest and represents a conservative-leaning state. 

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamThe beginning of the end for Ted Cruz Graham: 'Lucifer may be the only person Trump can beat in a general election' Sunday shows preview: Cruz pulls out all the stops ahead of Indiana 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 CornynJudiciary Dems seek hearing on voting rights First US Zika death reported in Puerto Rico Senate confirms Obama's long-stalled ambassador to Mexico 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 PaulOvernight Energy: Clinton makes her pitch to coal country Rand Paul calls on Clinton to apologize for coal job losses Five ways Trump will attack Clinton 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.