Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, an influential Senate Republican, has decided to step down from leadership. He will also not contend for a leadership post next year, when he was widely expected to run for whip, the number-two slot in the conference. Instead, after serving four years as conference chairman, he will focus on his legislative work. “This will liberate me to work for results on the issues I care most about,” he says in a statement.
“For four years my leadership job has been to help others succeed, to find a Republican consensus and to suggest a message,” Alexander says. “There are different ways to offer leadership. After nine years in the Senate, this is how I believe I can now make my greatest contribution.”
In recent months, Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) has been quietly battling Alexander in the Capitol’s marble halls for support in the whip race. The Texan is now, barring another challenger, the favorite for the whip position. Alexander’s decision, according to GOP sources, leaves Cornyn coasting, unless an Alexander ally rises, but it also makes the race for conference chairman, the third-ranking post, a scramble. Expect that contest to heat up.
And don’t expect Alexander to fade away. The 71-year-old Tennessean, who previously served as governor and in Pres. George H. W. Bush’s cabinet as education secretary, plans to run for reelection in 2014. “I said to Tennesseans when I first ran for the Senate that I would serve with conservative principles and an independent attitude. I will continue to serve in that same way,” he says. “I am a very ‘Republican’ Republican. I intend to be more, not less, in the thick of resolving serious issues.”