How Mitch McConnell Could Win the Senate, But Lose His Seat

The minority leader’s campaign isn’t rising like others in the GOP.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives at a press conference, September 26, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Add to Briefcase
Alex Roarty
Feb. 12, 2014, 2:58 p.m.

Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s party has nev­er looked a bet­ter bet to re­take the Sen­ate. But if they do, he might not be around to en­joy it.

The Sen­ate minor­ity lead­er is locked in a slug­fest with Demo­crat Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes, his gen­er­al-elec­tion op­pon­ent, and re­cent polling sug­gests he’s be­hind. A WHAS11/Cour­i­er-Journ­al Bluegrass Poll re­leased last week found Grimes lead­ing 46 per­cent to 42 per­cent. Even Mc­Con­nell’s al­lies, while still con­fid­ent of vic­tory, ac­know­ledge the sen­at­or has a dog­fight on his hands.

While a tough race is not a sur­prise, what does alarm Re­pub­lic­ans is how Mc­Con­nell’s stand­ing has stag­nated as the polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment im­proves for the GOP. Pres­id­ent Obama’s still-sag­ging poll num­bers have weakened Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bents from North Car­o­lina to Alaska — but not in Ken­tucky.

And that means a good year for Re­pub­lic­ans isn’t guar­an­teed to bail out Mc­Con­nell.

“All Sen­ate races are in­di­vidu­al,” said Billy Piper, the sen­at­or’s former long­time chief of staff. “We in D.C. tend to like to think of things in sweep­ing nar­rat­ives, and oc­ca­sion­ally that proves to be the case. But Sen­ate races tend to be pretty big on their own, and they fol­low their own pat­ters and flows.”

The Grimes cam­paign hasn’t dawdled pro­mot­ing its new­found strength. It is­sued four press re­leases in five days tout­ing the Bluegrass poll. It’s an open­ing, of­fi­cials there say, to fi­nally con­vince the pub­lic that Ken­tucky’s sec­ret­ary of state has a real chance at win­ning.

Grimes’s can­did­acy has al­ways hinged on the deep un­pop­ular­ity sewn dur­ing Mc­Con­nell’s 30-year ten­ure in Wash­ing­ton. And, in­deed, the Bluegrass sur­vey found his ap­prov­al was lower than even Obama’s in Ken­tucky. But strategists for the Grimes cam­paign also cite her own lack of a re­cord in Wash­ing­ton, es­pe­cially the fact she — un­like oth­er Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bents run­ning this year — didn’t vote for Obama­care. The un­pop­u­lar law has dogged Demo­crat­ic sen­at­ors like Kay Hagan and Mary Landrieu this year, both of whom watched their num­bers dip dur­ing its troubled rol­lout.

“One of the reas­ons, quite frankly, that Re­pub­lic­ans look like they’re in a bet­ter po­s­i­tion is be­cause of the Demo­crats,” said Mark Mell­man, Grimes’s poll­ster. “But it’s very hard to tag her with any of things Re­pub­lic­ans have been suc­cess­ful in tag­ging Demo­crats with.”

In fact, something sim­il­ar might also be hap­pen­ing in Geor­gia, where Demo­crat Michelle Nunn’s vote-free back­ground and prodi­gious fun­drais­ing have also kindled Demo­crat­ic op­tim­ism. The two states — the only GOP-held seats Demo­crats have a hope of win­ning — each look re­l­at­ively stronger for Demo­crats.

“The over­all pic­ture for Re­pub­lic­ans has got­ten markedly bet­ter in last sev­er­al months, but that does not mean we can take our eyes of Geor­gia and Ken­tucky,” said one GOP strategist keep­ing an eye on the Sen­ate land­scape. “They haven’t moved as far, or even that close, as some states swinging in our dir­ec­tion.”

Re­pub­lic­ans in both states also face primar­ies. Of the two, there’s no doubt that the Peach State’s multi-can­did­ate brawl is the more fierce. But Mc­Con­nell’s own battle against Matt Bev­in, a Louis­ville-area busi­ness­man, has siphoned at­ten­tion and re­sources that could oth­er­wise be dir­ec­ted at Grimes, the sen­at­or’s ad­visers say.

They blame Bev­in, whose own cam­paign was rocked this week by a re­port in Politco that he sup­por­ted the 2008 mult­i­bil­lion-dol­lar bail­out of Wall Street known as TARP, for the race’s tight poll num­bers. But they’re con­fid­ent that if Mc­Con­nell wins the May primary, the GOP will unite be­hind him. And then, as seni­or Mc­Con­nell ad­viser Josh Holmes said, the cam­paign can de­vote all of its at­ten­tion to Grimes.

“We think when everything hap­pens in early sum­mer, this is prob­ably not as tight a race as every­one thinks it is right now,” Holmes said.

The sen­at­or’s al­lies look to those first months of sum­mer as the point in the race when Grimes’s po­s­i­tions on everything from abor­tion rights to gay mar­riage will sink her with the state’s con­ser­vat­ive elect­or­ate. She’s not well-known among many voters now, they con­tend, but she will be by the time the race enters its home stretch in the fall.

“While [Mc­Con­nell] might have some barnacles on his hull, his name ID is 99 per­cent in Ken­tucky, so she’s not go­ing to add any barnacles,” Piper said. “She on the oth­er hand is an un­known en­tity who is go­ing to be in­tro­duced by a tid­al wave of ad­vert­ising.”

What We're Following See More »
AT HEART OF FEDERAL RACKETEERING LAWSUIT
A.T.F. Agents Filled Secret Coffers
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives " used a web of shadowy cigarette sales to funnel tens of millions of dollars into a secret bank account," according to a federal racketeering lawsuit filed by a group of tobacco farmers who claim they were "swindled out of $24 million." The agents allegedly used shipments of snack food disguised as tobacco. The Justice Department is reportedly investigating the matter, though as of now it is unclear how widespread the practice was or if it is still ongoing.

Source:
THE QUESTION
How Many Signatures Has the Petition for Trump’s Tax Returns Received?
1 hours ago
THE ANSWER

More than 1 million, setting a record. More than 100,000 signatures triggers an official White House response.

Source:
TIED TO RUSSIA INVESTIGATION
Sen. Collins Open to Subpoena of Trump’s Tax Returns
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

Sen. Susan Collins, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, "said on Wednesday she's open to using a subpoena to investigate President Donald Trump's tax returns for potential connections to Russia." She said the committee is also open to subpoenaing Trump himself. "This is a counter-intelligence operation in many ways," she said of Russia's interference. "That's what our committee specializes in. We are used to probing in depth in this area."

Source:
NPR ALSO LAUNCHES ETHICS WATCH
Obama Staffers Launch Group to Monitor Trump Ethics
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"Top lawyers who helped the Obama White House craft and hold to rules of conduct believe President Donald Trump and his staff will break ethics norms meant to guard against politicization of the government — and they’ve formed a new group to prepare, and fight. United to Protect Democracy, which draws its name from a line in President Barack Obama’s farewell address that urged his supporters to pick up where he was leaving off, has already raised a $1.5 million operating budget, hired five staffers and has plans to double that in the coming months." Meanwhile, NPR has launched a "Trump Ethics Monitor" to track the resolution of ten ethics-related promises that the president has made.

Source:
DOESN’T WISH TO JOIN TRUMP
Christie Turned Down Labor Secretary
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Over a meatloaf lunch at the White House last week, Donald Trump offered the job of Labor secretary to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a longtime loyalist. Christie promptly turned down the offer, once again signaling that he has no desire to move to Washington, D.C. to join the Trump administration. The job ended up going to Alexander Acosta, who is expected to sail through the Senate confirmation process.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login