Less than an hour after he was elected by his fellow Republican senators as the new chairman of their campaign committee, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker told Newsmax that Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid will be a "big target" of the GOP when he faces Nevada voters again in 2016.
Wicker spoke to us Thursday in his first major interview following the closed-door conference on Capitol Hill in which he defeated Nevada Sen. Dean Heller for the chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Asked by Newsmax if he saw any opportunities in 2016 for his party to add to the majority in the Senate it won Nov. 4, the Mississippian replied: "Absolutely. We can pick up a couple of seats and Nevada is certainly one of them."
"We definitely see an opportunity to win the seat we should have won in 2010," he said, making a not-so-subtle reference to Reid's narrow win against a not-so-stellar campaign by controversial Republican opponent Sharron Angle.
Asked if five-termer Reid was a "big target" on his list as NRSC chairman, Wicker shot back: "[Reid's] a big target of the entire Republican Conference in the Senate!"
There seems to be little doubt that the Senate Democratic leader so disliked by Republican colleagues across the aisle will face a formidable GOP opponent in '16. Led by Gov. Brian Sandoval in his smashing re-election, Silver State Republicans swept statewide races, raised their ranks in the state legislature, and unseated a Democratic U.S. House Member.
Among the Republican winners in Nevada this year was Adam Laxalt, who was elected state attorney general 40 years to the day his grandfather Paul Laxalt won his first term as U.S. Senator, defeating a young Democratic lieutenant governor named Harry Reid. (When the elder Laxalt retired from office in 1986, Reid picked up his Senate seat).
Many Republican strategists point out that Wicker will have his hands full playing defense as the party's campaign manager for the Senate in 2016. Twenty-four Republican Senate seats will be up for election, compared to only 10 in Democratic hands that will face the voters.
Several narrow GOP winners in '10 are considered particularly vulnerable as they prepare for re-election in '16. Pennsylvania's Sen. Pat Toomey, for example, will be running in a state where Democratic registration has risen over the past four years and where, following the defeat of GOP Gov. Tom Corbett this month, Democrats now hold every statewide office.
Also considered top targets for Democratic assault are freshman Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), and Ron Johnson (Wis.). In recent weeks, former Sen. Russ Feingold, who was ousted by Johnson in 2010, has made noises about a comeback bid in 2016.
"Look, the roles are reversed between Democrats and Republicans from 2010 to 2016," said Wicker, "We have go to defend 24 seats and just go down the list and you'll find a number of them are in blue or purple states. A number of our senators are vulnerable, but I think they can be re-elected."
Wicker, who got his start in College Republicans along with future George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove, was first elected to the U.S. House in 1994. In 2007, he was appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy by close friend and then-Republican Gov. Haley Barbour.
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