Updated 1:41 p.m. ET
Washington (CNN) – They're the top two ranked Republicans in the U.S. Senate, and they're both running for re-election next year.
And now, both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas have both reached out to veterans of the grassroots conservative movement to run their re-election campaigns.
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Cornyn announced Thursday that he's hired Brendan Steinhauser (no relation to this reporter) as his 2014 campaign manager. During the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, Steinhauser was director of campaigns for FreedomWorks, a D.C. based grassroots group that played an influential role in the rise of the tea party movement and backed conservative candidates in federal races. FreedomWorks’ efforts in GOP Senate primary battles were often at odds with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which Cornyn chaired during the 2010 and 2012 cycles.
Steinhauser last year led FreedomWorks’ grassroots efforts in helping elect Ted Cruz of Texas to the Senate. And in 2010, his efforts assisted Marco Rubio of Florida, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Mike Lee of Utah in their Senate victories.
"Brendan has been working hard for conservative policies and candidates in more than 40 states, and I am excited that he is joining our team in Texas," said Cornyn in a statement.
Steinhauser, a Texas native, said in a statement that he's "excited to work for my senior Senator from Texas, a conservative leader that I admire and respect."
The move by Cornyn follows McConnell's hiring last year of Jesse Benton to manage his re-election campaign in Kentucky. Benton was one of the senior advisers to then-Rep. Ron Paul's 2008 and 2012 runs for the Republican presidential nomination and to Rand Paul's 2010 election in Kentucky to the Senate. Both Pauls enjoyed strong support from tea party activists.
While both conservatives, McConnell and Cornyn are also considered part of the GOP establishment, thanks to their leadership roles in the Senate. And now both of their campaign managers have strong credentials in the grassroots and tea party world, which has been a force the past two cycles in GOP congressional primaries. In many cases, Republican members of Congress up for re-election fear a possible conservative primary challenge more than their general election Democratic opponent.
"Any challenge Cornyn might face (and to be clear, there's also no evidence yet of any such challenge) might be in a primary. So it's just a very smart political move to hire someone with strong credentials on the right, even with no serious challenge at this point on that horizon," says a Republican strategist with experience in Texas elections, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely.
Another Republican strategist says this isn't an establishment versus grassroots storyline, but rather it's about beating Democrats in the general election.
"Senator Cornyn has one of the most consistently conservative records in the Senate so I don't think it should surprise anyone that he'd hire someone with that same principled background to run his campaign," says Brian Walsh, who served as Cornyn's communications director at the NRSC. "Brendan Steinhauser's a rising star on the Republican side and his leadership at the helm of the Cornyn campaign just further highlights the uphill challenge facing national Democrats who still harbor illusions about turning Texas from red to blue."