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Heller floated to head GOP campaign effort

WASHINGTON — Sen. Dean Heller is being floated to head the Republican effort to win Senate races in 2016, a post that would raise his national profile while challenging his political skills at raising money, recruiting candidates and beating Democrats.

Heller is one of several party members whose names are circulating on Capitol Hill to be the next chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He would become the chief recruiter and fundraiser and a major adviser as Republicans defend as many as 24 seats while trying to defeat 10 Democrats.

And the biggest target would be fellow Nevadan Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader who has said he plans to run for a sixth term.

Heller did not comment Tuesday on a report in the National Journal that has fueled the speculation, and his staff declined to confirm or deny his interest in the job. Spokesman Neal Patel said Heller is focused on electing as many Republicans as possible in November before looking at future opportunities.

“Right now, Senator Heller’s top priority is to help Republicans take over the Senate and make Mitch McConnell the Majority Leader,” Patel said in a statement. “He knows personally how important it is to remain focused on the task at hand. “

Patel said Heller “has given nearly $400,000 to Republican candidates across the country this cycle and will continue working to help ensure they are elected.” Such financial generosity can be one sign that a lawmaker is looking to build relationships in advance of an attempt to move up the ladder.

The next chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee will be chosen by GOP colleagues after the November elections where the GOP presently is favored to capture the Senate majority. The post is a step into the Senate Republican leadership, along with an increase in political clout.

Then-Sen. John Ensign of Nevada volunteered to lead the National Republican Senatorial Committee heading into the 2008 elections. In that year when Barack Obama cruised to the presidency, the GOP was swamped in the Senate, losing eight seats including those of five incumbents.

Still, Ensign was given a seat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee that year after taking on the assignment that many Republicans viewed as a no-win job in a Democratic year.

Having a Nevadan as head of the Republican campaign committee is seen by some as helpful in trying to defeat Reid, according to Republicans who spoke to the National Journal. Heller also has kept relationships with former colleagues in the House, which could aid recruiting, according to the report.

But some question whether Heller is up to running “a nasty national campaign” for the GOP after trying to position himself as a centrist and working with Democrats on issues such as unemployment insurance in the past year.

Other Republicans being mentioned to head the campaign committee are Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, according to the National Journal.

Corker, who is the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also sits on the Senate Banking Committee, is viewed as a strong recruiter and fundraiser with ties to the pro-Israel lobby. But if Republicans win the Senate this year, he would be in line to become Foreign Relations chairman and might not go for the campaign post.

Wicker is viewed as a “team player” who regularly contributes to the party, according to the National Journal. But being from Mississippi, which is not a major state for fundraising, might hamper his chances.

The 2016 Senate elections also will take place in a presidential election year, with key seats being contested in swing states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, as well as Colorado and Nevada.

Heller was appointed to Senate in 2011 after Ensign resigned, and then won the seat outright in 2012. He became the only Republican to be elected to the Senate from a state that Obama won. He is not up for re-election until 2018.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.

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