WASHINGTON – Sen. Elizabeth Dole (search) has secured more than half of the votes she needs to become the first woman to lead the GOP campaign committee that works to help elect Republicans to the Senate.
Taking over at National Republican Senatorial Committee (search) is a traditional stepping stone into party leadership. The winner will need at least 28 votes from the 55 Republican incumbents and senators-elect when they meet next week.
Dole, R-N.C., and Sen. Norm Coleman (search), R-Minn., are seeking the job.
A letter from 16 of those Republicans says Dole is "uniquely qualified and positioned to lead our next effort to protect and defend our majority" as the top fund raiser and campaign strategist for Senate Republicans.
The Nov. 5 letter, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, said Dole has a household name and is well known by the news media "from her many years of service to the nation and the Republican Party."
"That is a crucial element in fund-raising, whether trying to speak with a Fortune 500 CEO, organizing a series of fund-raising events across the country or communicating with grass-roots donors through direct mail," the letter said.
Dole won election to the Senate two years ago, succeeding Republican Jesse Helms in the Senate. Previously she led the American Red Cross (search), was a presidential candidate in 2000 and served in two Cabinets -- transportation secretary in the Reagan administration and labor secretary in George H.W. Bush's administration.
Sen. George Allen, R-Va., is stepping down as the committee chairman after two years. In the election, the GOP expanded its Senate majority by four seats.
Allen's predecessor in the job was Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, whom Republicans made majority leader after their success in the 2002 election.
A Dole spokesman refused to comment on the letter.
The Dole letter is signed by Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Wayne Allard of Colorado, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Robert Bennett of Utah, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, John Warner of Virginia, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Craig Thomas of Wyoming, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Olympia Snowe of Maine. Senator-elect Richard Burr of North Carolina also signed the letter.
Coleman supporters also have issued a campaign letter signed by seven senators: former Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Larry Craig of Idaho, Jim Talent of Missouri and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.
Coleman chief of staff Erich Mische said more senators than that are supporting Coleman. "The intention was to show the broad support that Senator Coleman has," he said.
One of the other senators supporting Coleman is John Cornyn of Texas, who said Coleman asked for his support before he knew that Dole wanted the position. "I've committed to Senator Coleman, and I've told that to Senator Dole and she understands," Cornyn said.
Dole's supporters pointed out that she also raised $16 million for the campaign committee this election cycle, $13.5 million for her election campaign and $3.4 billion for the Red Cross, when she led that organization for eight years.
"Money equals message," the letter said. "We know that when we get our message to the voters -- we win," the senators said.