Image Courtesy of The Hill

By John Maggio

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently announced that he will be stepping down as leader of Senate Republicans, names of Senators who will replace him have already been making the rounds.

McConnell, who just turned 82, stated on the Senate floor that he will be stepping down as leader of Senate Republicans, a role he has served since 2007. 

This is the longest tenure by a party leader in the Senate. The Kentucky lawmaker, who has been in the Senate since 1985, will resign from his leadership role in November after the election.

While McConnell will hold onto his role for several months until after the general election, it is important to look at some key candidates likely to take his spot.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD)

It is most likely that the senior South Dakota senator will be McConnell’s successor. Serving in the Senate since 2005, Thune has been a close associate of McConnell. He has served as House Majority Whip from 2019-2021 and has kept the No. 2 position in the party leadership when the Republicans lost the Senate.

McConnell once backed Thune to run for President to challenge Obama back in 2012, although Thune did not end up running.

He was one of many Republicans who supported upholding Obama’s Supreme Court nomination seven months before the 2016 election but said it was the Senate’s job to “fulfill our obligation” to appoint Donald Trump’s nominee less than two months before the 2020 election.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)

The second “John” in this race is the senior senator from Texas, Sen. Cornyn will be a strong candidate to be the Republican Senate leader this November. He served as the Republican’s Whip in the Senate from 2013-2019. Before running for the Senate in 2002, he was the Attorney General of Texas.

He was one of 22 Senators who urged then-President Trump to remove the US from the Paris Climate Accord in 2019.

Cornyn was a leader of a bipartisan bill focusing on preventing gun violence in 2022.

He has already announced his intentions to replace McConnell in November.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY)

The final of the “Johns” is Sen. John Barrasso, the senior senator of Wyoming. He has served as the Chair of the Senate Republican Conference since 2019.

Barrasso is up for reelection this November, which is likely a seat the Republicans will hold.

While he was seen as a top contender to replace McConnell, he has announced that he will run for Republican Senate Whip instead of Republican Senate Leader.

Other Potentials

The battle of the two “Johns” is likely to lead to a successor to McConnell’s position, but there are some other names whose names may be thrown into the ring.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) is the No. 5 GOP Senate member as she is the Vice Chair of the Republican Conference. Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) is the Chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, ranking him 6th within the conference leadership.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who serves as No.4 in the leadership as Chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, has signaled no interest in running, but she did say that Trump “may” have a large role in choosing McConnell’s replacer.

Trump is already encouraging Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) to replace McConnell later this year, showing that Ernst’s view of Trump’s role in the selection of the new leader may be true.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) may seek to take this role. He once challenged McConnell for the GOP’s leadership position back in 2022. It could be likely that he would make a run for the top Senate seat again. Scott is up for reelection this November, with a recent poll putting him just 3 points ahead of the Democratic challenger.

It is important to note that the Senate leadership battle will not be known whether it is for the Senate Majority or Minority Leader. The Democrats (including independents) have a 51-49 lead over the Republicans, but some seats such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) are going to make this a tight battle and likely a narrow majority for whichever party takes the Senate. 

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