Skip to content
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the House Minority Leader, walks to the Senate Chamber, at U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

The race to replace Mitch McConnell as Senate Republican leader is on, with two candidates officially in the race and at least three others mulling bids for the chance to replace the long-serving Kentucky Republican.

McConnell announced on Feb. 28 that he is stepping down in November from his role as leader, a position he’s held since 2007, saying he feels “it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter.”

Over the course of his tenure, McConnell led the effort to block confirmation of numerous judges former President Barack Obama appointed to the federal bench, including Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. He was then able to confirm judges that President Donald Trump nominated after he took office in 2017, helping stack the judiciary with right-wing jurists who block progressive policies.

The Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court issued the ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that affirmed the constitutional right to an abortion in the United States. With Roe gone, Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed restrictions and bans across the country that make accessing abortion care difficult or impossible.

The Republicans looking to replace McConnell do not hold markedly different positions on policy. However, their style of leadership could be different, which could impact whether and how legislation will make its way through Congress.

Senate Republicans meet privately and hold their own internal election for leader.

Here are the candidates who have announced their bids or are publicly rumored to be eyeing runs.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)

Cornyn was the first Republican to officially announce a bid to replace McConnell, saying in a statement on Feb. 29: “I believe the Senate is broken — that is not news to anyone. The good news is that it can be fixed, and I intend to play a major role in fixing it.”

Cornyn opposes abortion and was a co-sponsor of a bill introduced in 2021 by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that would have criminalized abortion nationwide after 20 weeks’ gestation.

Cornyn also voted against the Respect for Marriage Act, which repealed provisions in federal law that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Cornyn voted against repealing the authorization of military force against Iraq.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD)

Thune is the second Republican to officially announce a bid to succeed McConnell, telling Dakota News Now on Monday: “I think this is a real opportunity. Any transition is a chance for a reset. In my view, this is a chance for a reset and I’d like to be a part of it.”

Thune is the second-highest-ranking Republican in the Senate, serving as minority whip since 2019. As McConnell’s No. 2, Axios reported, Thune is the choice of a number of Senate Republicans for the job.

However, Trump is not a fan of Thune. Trump said Thune should face a primary challenge in 2020, though Thune went on to trounce his opponents, taking 72% of the vote. However, public opposition from Trump could sink his bid, as the GOP has shown reluctance to anger its likely presidential nominee.

Thune’s record includes co-sponsoring Graham’s proposed 20-week federal abortion ban and voting against the Respect for Marriage Act. He also voted against repealing authorization of the use of military force against Iraq.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT)

Daines has yet to announce a bid for GOP leader, but Axios reported on Feb. 29 that Trump is urging Daines to run.

Daines serves as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Senate.

He was the first Republican in GOP Senate leadership to endorse Trump’s 2024 bid to return to the White House.

His record is nearly identical to those of the other Republicans running in the race. He was a co-sponsor of Graham’s proposed 20-week federal abortion ban and voted against the Respect for Marriage Act.

Unlinke Thune and Cornyn, Daines was a co-sponsor of the bill that pulled authorization of the use of military force in Iraq.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL)

Scott has yet to announce a bid to replace McConnell.

However, he told a right-wing radio host on March 1 that he is seriously considering entering the race and met with Trump on Monday.

Scott chaired the NRSC during the 2022 election cycle. Under his leadership, Republicans underperformed and lost a seat, even though historically the party that doesn’t hold the White House gains seats in Congress during the first midterm of the new presidency.

Scott then unsuccessfully challenged McConnell for the leadership job in 2022, earning just 10 votes from his Senate Republican colleagues. There is still no love lost between the two men; Scott and McConnell continue to publicly criticize each other.

Scott’s record is identical to those of the other candidates seeking the job. He was a co-sponsor of Graham’s proposed 20-week federal abortion ban, and voted against the Respect for Marriage Act as well as the repeal of authorization for the use of force in Iraq.

Related articles

Share this article:
Subscribe to our newsletter