Who will replace Mitch McConnell? The 3 Republicans who are likeliest to succeed him

Breaking down the possible successors to the longest-serving Senate party leader in history.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell listens to a question from a reporter following a meeting at the White House on February 27.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell listens to a question from a reporter following a meeting at the White House on February 27. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Wednesday that he would step down as the Republican leader in November after a record 17 years in the position. One of the most consequential senators in U.S. history, McConnell sparred with presidents from both parties while overseeing the confirmations of hundreds of conservative federal judges.

Here are the three Republican senators — all named John — who might replace McConnell as the leader of their party in the upper chamber of Congress.

Sen. John Thune

The 62-year old South Dakotan has been the No. 2 Republican in the Senate since 2019. He is a mild-mannered politician with a moderate streak. And he has been critical of former President Donald Trump, although he endorsed Trump's 2024 bid for the White House on Sunday.

Sen. John Thune
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Thune contemplated leaving the Senate in 2021 but then decided to run for reelection in 2022, a race he easily won.

Thune has been in the Senate since 2005. He considered running for president in the past, most notably in 2012, but since then he stayed focused on Senate work. He led the Senate Republican Conference for many years and the Senate Republican Policy Committee, both of them consensus-building roles that gave him experience navigating the factions of — and tensions within — the GOP.

Sen. John Cornyn

Cornyn, 71, from Texas, has been in the Senate since 2003. He is a former associate justice of the Texas Supreme Court who went on to serve as attorney general of that state as well.

Sen. John Cornyn
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Cornyn was the No. 2 Senate Republican — a position known as the whip — for six years before Thune took over the role. Unlike Thune, Cornyn has also led the campaign arm of the Senate GOP, focusing on helping his party win elections.

Known as a particularly savvy politician, Cornyn was at one point considered a nominee for the Supreme Court.

Sen. John Barrasso

Barrasso, 71, hails from Wyoming, and is most likely to move into the second Republican spot behind McConnell's successor.

Sen. John Barrasso
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

But if neither Thune nor Cornyn can gain the votes from their fellow Senate Republicans to win the top job, Barrasso would be in the running.

Barrasso was appointed to the Senate in 2007 to replace Sen. Craig Thomas after his death. Since then, he has moved up the ranks of Republican Senate leadership, chairing the Republican Policy Committee after Thune and then taking over the leadership of the Senate Republican Conference after Thune became whip in 2019.

Other possibilities

While Thune, Cornyn and Barrasso are seen by many to be the frontrunners to replace McConnell, younger senators such as Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton could make a run for the leader position. And Florida Sen. Rick Scott, a McConnell rival who challenged him for the role in 2022, could try for the post again.