Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told NBC that he was caught off guard by Sen. Olympia Snowe's retirement announcement yesterday, but said he understands her decision.
He is now searching for a GOP candidate ahead of the March 15 filing deadline in Maine.
"I was very surprised," Cornyn said, "because up until yesterday afternoon, mid-afternoon, she gave every indication that she was running for re-election. But obviously after much thought and soul-searching decided that she would retire."
He added, "As you know, she's had a long run in public life at the state legislative level and also in the House and now in the Senate. So while I'm disappointed because I think she's been a very solid member of the Senate and our Congress, its understandable."
Cornyn conceded that a once-safe seat in Maine will now be a battle for Republicans given the state's independent nature and Democratic leanings in presidential elections. But he said he still believes the GOP can win.
"I don't really get this idea that Republicans can't run and win in Maine, because demonstrably, they can," he said noting that Paul LePage, a Tea Party Republican, won as governor in 2010 -- and Republicans Snowe and Susan Collins hold the U.S. Senate seats.
Cornyn rejected the scenario that Republicans may need to win as many as six seats or more to take back the Senate, if they were to lose Maine, Sen. Scott Brown's seat in Massachusetts, or the open toss-up race in Nevada.
So who will jump in now for Maine? Cornyn said he doesn't have anyone "in" yet, but he is burning up the phones and sending emails.
"Republicans who come from Maine have a more moderate appeal than someone in Texas," said the Texas senator. "That shouldn't be surprising."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the man who would set the agenda as majority leader if Republicans take back the House, said today at a news conference with House Speaker John Boehner, that the Republicans were "surprised and disappointed" by Snowe's decision, noting that he's confident she would have been re-elected comfortably.
"We hate to lose Sen. Snowe," McConnell said. "She's been an extraordinarily effective member, been right in the middle of bipartisan legislation over the years. I think she would have been re-elected comfortably. We were surprised obviously and disappointed, but, in the end, members in public life have to kind of make a decision about whether they want to continue, and she had a great run, and we wish her well. We're going to miss her."
And he likely hopes the GOP doesn't come up one race short of a majority.