U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman is locked in a second intense election contest: The Minnesota Republican is running against Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to become the next chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).
Several Republican senators told the Hill that Cornyn and Coleman have asked for their votes in recent days.
Most said they would not commit to a candidate until they know the results of next month's election. Both incumbents are seeking leadership posts weeks ahead of difficult reelection bids against viable challengers.
The past week was the last chance for leadership hopefuls to solicit their colleagues face to face.
Senators are expected to adjourn at the end of this week and return to Washington on Nov. 17 for a lame-duck session. Votes on leadership posts would happen then.
The NRSC is a political committee dedicated to electing Republicans to the U.S. Senate. In 2004, Coleman lost the race for chairman by one vote.
Senate Republicans are expected to lose seats next month -- some say as many as five, some say more.
The next cycle looks more promising for the party. While Senate Republicans will have to defend 19 seats in 2010 -- four more than Democrats -- most of those races take place in states that President Bush carried in 2004. The next chairman of the NRSC may also benefit if Barack Obama defeats John McCain for the presidency. Historically, the party that loses the White House has a strong showing in the next midterm cycle.
Coleman's vigorous behind-the-scenes maneuvering has raised eyebrows because he is in a close race against DFLer Al Franken.
A spokesman for Coleman said the senator is concentrating on his reelection campaign. "Although many of the senator's colleagues have approached him about a leadership position, he is solely focused on addressing the needs of Minnesotans, and reaching out to Minnesotans and asking for their support to represent them again for another term in the United States Senate," said LeRoy Coleman.
Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said she was surprised Friday to learn of Coleman's NRSC candidacy. She said the move belies recent statements that he was focused on his reelection campaign and committed to working across the aisle.
"Minnesota's going to go Democratic, and he's running to be the most partisan Republican on the Hill," she said.