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Texas Senator John Cornyn begins the GOP rebuilding effort in the United States Senate

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

HH: In my new book, GOP 5.0, I point out one of the crucial things Republican activists are going to have to do is get behind the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the next cycle if they want to return balance to Washington, D.C. The chairman of the NRSC is Texas Senator John Cornyn. He joins us for the first of many opportunities over the next two years to talk about returning balance to the Capitol. Senator Cornyn, Happy New Year to you, great to talk to you.

JC: Thanks, Hugh, good to be with you.

HH: Now we had a Chris Cillizza column this morning saying woe is the Republicans. You’ve got these four retirements – Brownback, Bond, Voinovich and Martinez. I actually, you know, I like all these guys, they’re great guys, but I see it as an opportunity to recharge the bench, John Cornyn. What do you see?

JC: Well, I agree with that. I mean, you know, these are colleagues of mine who performed many years of great public service, and we need to respect that service, but also their personal decision to retire. But I do think this does provide an opportunity for young, energetic Republicans to run and win and hold those seats. I would add, Hugh, that you know, it’s not all about retirements. It’s also the gift that President-elect Obama gave us with vacancies in Illinois, Colorado, places like Delaware, places where you might not think that we would have a chance, but because of a combination of circumstances, we actually have some other great opportunities as a result of those choices.

HH: Now clearly, John Cornyn, your first job is recruitment. Now obviously, someone in Ohio like Rob Portman shows up, and I hope the field clears for the former United States trade representative. And you’ve got the young, Cuban, former House speaker down in Florida, you’ve got a bunch of great people. But what about a place like California, where you’ve got Barbara Boxer, historically even to the left of our electorate? Are you able to recruit someone to take her on?

JC: Well, we’re working on that. There’s some really outstanding talent who have thrown their hat in the ring for governor, people like Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner out there. And you know, we’re still working on that. It would be great to be able to run a strong Republican candidate in a state that’s now has a United States Senator who frankly I think is out of touch with the mainstream of California values out there. And we also need to make sure that what happened in 2008 doesn’t reoccur, which is where we have limited recruitment, we’re on the offense in only one state, and where the opponents can concentrate their firepower like they did with their disproportionate financial advantage in states like North Carolina and Oregon, New Hampshire, other places where it was just too much to withstand given the particularly difficult electoral period we found ourselves in.

HH: Well, whether it’s conservative activist Chuck DeVore or an executive like Carly Fiorina, I hope you find someone in California. Let’s talk about Arkansas, Senator Cornyn. Obviously your colleage, Blanche Lincoln, is a liberal Democrat in a state that is red. Now have you got someone in mind yet? Are you able to find someone on the hustings to take her on?

JC: Well, we’ve been talking to Governor Huckabee for his ideas. I think it’s pretty clear he has aspirations in 2012, and not likely to run for the Senate. But we are talking to a number of people. I’m not really prepared to give you names, yet, but let me just give you one example where I think there’s some vulnerability. Arkansas’ a right to work state. We know that the labor unions’ number one issue is card check, eliminating the secret ballot there. I think we can, if we recruit the right kind of candidate, and if Senator Lincoln decides to vote in favor of the labor unions instead of the interests of her state which is clearly a right to work state, I think there’s a real opportunity there in a state that went for John McCain to elect a Republican senator. So we’re going to be looking for those opportunities as well.

HH: And finally, before we talk about financing, up in New York, obviously Senator, soon-to-be Secretary of State Clinton stepping down, someone’s going to be there, whether it’s Caroline Kennedy or Andrew Cuomo. We don’t know, but it’ll be a newbie. And Peter King’s in this race. Now that’s a long reach. Do you expect to make that competitive, John Cornyn?

JC: Well, I think if the Governor chooses Caroline Kennedy, it sort of reinforces this sense of entitlement that I think a lot of people who’ve been working their way up the political food chain would find offensive. And I think Peter King being one of the Republican congressmen in New York, under those circumstances, I saw a recent poll that had him within 2 points against Caroline Kennedy already. I think that could be one that we could put in the R column due to this sort of unusual set of circumstances.

HH: Now Senator, let’s talk money. As I mentioned, I’ve written a new book called GOP 5.0: A Republican Renewal Under President Obama. And in there, I have a chapter that says I hope the NRSC sets up a fund that the contributions to it will only go to candidates challenging Democrats, or defending open seats, not to incumbents. I always look to incumbents to raise their own money. What do you make of that idea, because I think a lot of people out in our audience, and across the United States, want to give to play offense. They don’t want to give to play defense.

JC: Well, I think it’s a great idea, Hugh, and I appreciate you’re suggesting it, because we do need to think anew and act anew, because honestly, the way we’ve been doing things has not proven successful during these last two cycles. And I’ve been following your column, your blog on things like making sure that we are more effective in the new media, communicating to people through everything from Twitter to Facebook to you name it. We’ve got to modernize our outreach, our communications, our fundraising capability, and we need look no further than Obama’s campaign this last time to see what the power of that from a fundraising and a communications standpoint can be.

HH: Right now, I’ll tell people they can go to and give a few dollars to get going in terms of the technology build out. How is your funding, Senator Cornyn? This is where the game is. is the game for the next two years. How do you look at the start of the game?

JC: Well, we got our head handed to us this last cycle. The NRSC raised about $91 million dollars, and the Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee raised about $154 million dollars.

HH: Wow.

JC: Chuck Schumer was impressive to say the least. Bob Menendez is the new DSCC chairman, and obviously we’ve got a different economy, but I plan to start using my fundraising base back in Texas, but then also to build a national fundraising structure that will help leverage our Senators’ time and effort to get competitive. We’ve got to be competitive financially, or we’re going to find ourselves on our heels in the next cycle. And I’m just not going to stand still and allow that to happen.

HH: Now you know the advantage the White House gives the party that holds it, obviously.

JC: Right.

HH: Do you expect George W. Bush to be part of your effort to get some pocketbooks unhinged for the cycle in 2010?

JC: Well, I certainly hope so, and certainly the huge fundraising effort that we saw in the McCain campaign out of the RNC. They raised more than $400 million dollars. And as I heard you suggest earlier, I mean, if you want to have an impact in Washington, D.C., unfortunately we lost the White House, the House of Representatives can’t be put back in our column anytime real soon. The one place that you can make a difference is the United States Senate because of our unique rules that require a filibuster-proof majority in order to run the deck. Right now, we’re on the bubble, as you know, and we’re starting our efforts to crawl back not only out of that precarious situation but back into the majority over this next couple of cycles. So that’s the place you can really have an impact if you really want to make a difference.

HH:, America, if you want to get back in the game with a good team leader. John Cornyn is the guy. Thank you, Senator, talk to you again early and often between now and November, 2010.

End of interview.

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