Apr 29, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Senate GOP leader hopefuls swarm Kari Lake for MAGA cred

Arizona Republican Senate Candidate Kari Lake and an aide depart Capitol Hill on March, 6 2024 in Washington, DC.

Arizona Republican Senate candidate Kari Lake departs Capitol Hill on March 6. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Getty Images

Republicans hoping to be the next Senate GOP leader are seeking favor with Arizona GOP candidate Kari Lake to boost their MAGA credentials, which is paying dividends for her campaign, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The two men currently vying to next lead Senate Republicans have checkered records with former President Trump and his allies, which could be a roadblock in their path to victory.

  • But Lake has emerged as a key Trump proxy in the leadership race.

Driving the news: Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), both running to be the next GOP leader, have each raised six figures in cash for the Lake campaign, a source familiar told Axios.

  • Cornyn has raised nearly $275,000 for Lake, according to a source familiar.
  • Thune and Cornyn endorsed Lake in the week after Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced he would not seek the position again.
  • Thune traveled to Arizona to campaign with Lake last Friday. The pair also hosted a press conference together.

The big picture: Lake hardened her position as a top Trump ally after pushing the theory that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from the former president.

  • But a Washington Post report states Trump has grown increasingly worried that Lake will lose Arizona and harm his own performance in the state.
  • A person close to Lake told Axios that the two have a "strong relationship."

Between the lines: The proximity to Lake could help out both Thune and Cornyn with their conservative colleagues.

  • Thune and Trump have a longstanding and well-documented distaste for each other, with the former president calling for someone to challenge Thune in a GOP primary in 2022. But Thune endorsed Trump's 2024 bid in February.
  • Cornyn's hand in crafting gun control legislation that passed Congress after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in 2022 could be a non-starter for some Senate conservatives.
  • Both Cornyn and Thune have flexed their fundraising muscles over the past few months to gain standing with lawmakers and candidates.

The bottom line: Thune, Cornyn or any other candidate for GOP leader will need to win a majority of the Senate Republican caucus in a secret ballot vote.

  • Senate conservatives will be a key bloc of votes to secure.
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