WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans, riding high after capturing the majority, said Wednesday that a top priority in 2016 will be defeating Democratic leader Harry Reid.
“It’s not just about being in the majority, it’s about expanding the majority at this point,” Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., told reporters. “We’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.”
Heller, who is seeking the chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the effort would be “just business.”
The GOP won handily on Election Day, tightening its grip on the House and regaining control of the Senate after eight years. Republicans knocked off Democratic incumbents in Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado and Alaska, where the latest vote count showed Dan Sullivan prevailing over Sen. Mark Begich, and claimed a handful of open seats.
The GOP could hold as many as 54 seats next year, as three-term Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is considered the underdog in her Dec. 6 runoff against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.
In 2016, Republicans will be trying to protect 24 seats to the Democrats’ 10. Heller said he and other Republicans have spoken to Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who easily won another term last week, about challenging Reid.
“I think he’ll want to assess and we’ll give him a little time to do that,” Heller said of Sandoval.
Other potential challengers are newly elected Lt. Gov. Mark Hutchison and Rep. Joe Heck.
Heller faces Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker in the race for chairmanship of the committee responsible for electing Republicans to the Senate. The Nevada senator wasted no time in trying to drum up votes among the incoming class of GOP senators. Heller escorted Sen.-elect Thom Tillis of North Carolina into Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office and chatted with several of the newly elected.
McConnell held a meeting for the incoming class.
Told that Wicker says he has the votes for the chairmanship, Heller said, “He’s a lot more cocky than I am. It’s an uphill battle. He’s got seniority, but I’m not discounting anything at this point and nor should he.”