Race for GOP Leadership: The Potential Successors to Mitch McConnell’s Role, With ‘Three Johns’ and Tom Cotton in the Spotlight

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is seen outside the Senate Chamber in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on February 28, 2024. He is announcing that he will step down from his leadership position in November, while vowing to serve out the rest of his term in office.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed his decision to step down from his position as the top Republican in the Senate in November, leading to discussions about potential successors for the longest-serving Senate leader in US history. 

There are three individuals waiting in the wings who could potentially assume the prominent role, but there are also others who might decide to enter the competition.

During an emotional address on Wednesday, McConnell, 82, expressed his belief that it was time for a new era of leadership and expressed confidence in his party to select his successor. 

Currently, attention is focused on the two current and one former deputies – Senators John Thune, John Barrasso, and John Cornyn – who are seen as the frontrunners for the top position in Senate GOP leadership. 

According to a source familiar with the situation, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is also considering running for a Republican leadership position.

Furthermore, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, one of the two women in Republican Senate leadership, may emerge as a surprise candidate in the race, whereas Sen. Joni Ernst, another Republican leadership member, announced on Wednesday that she will not be running.

Senate Leaders Thune, Cornyn, Barrasso: Quick Profiles

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 28: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) departs the Senate chamber on February 28, 2024 in Washington, DC. McConnell announced Wednesday that he would step down as Republican leader in November.


John No. 1 is Sen. John Thune of South Dakota who currently serves as McConnell’s No. 2 in Senate leadership. 

At the age of 63, he is the youngest among the top three leading candidates. 

Thune has been a member of the Senate since 2005 following his surprising victory over then Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle.

The candidate narrowly defeated the prominent Democrat with a 50.6 to 49.4 percent victory, showcasing the state’s shift towards conservative views.  

John No. 2 is Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who previously served as McConnell’s right hand in Senate leadership. 

At 72 years old, Cornyn was elected to the Senate in 2002. He then went on to serve as the GOP’s Senate Whip from 2013 to 2019, following a successful tenure as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

Prior to that role, he was a district judge, served on the Texas Supreme Court, and held the position of the attorney general for the Lone Star State.  

Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, also known as John No. 3, currently holds the position of chair of the Senate Republican Conference, making him the third most powerful Senate Republican. 

At 71 years old, Barrasso works as an orthopedic surgeon and also spent some time as a rodeo physician. 

In 1996, he entered the Senate race when Sen. Alan Simpson retired, but was defeated in the GOP primary by state Sen. Mike Enzi, who went on to win the general election in the strongly Republican state. 

Two additional possible candidates are Capito and Cotton.

Capito, 70, from West Virginia, currently holds the position of vice chair of the Senate Republican Conference and would make history as the first woman in this position. 

At the age of 46, Cotton has been a member of the Senate since 2015. He is currently a member of the Judiciary, Intelligence, and Armed Services Committee.

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