It’s been obvious for a while that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) has been in a state of near-constant panic about his 2014 re-election in Kentucky, and for good reason. He’s unpopular with the right and left; he helps define “Washington insider”; and he has no real accomplishments about which to boast.
Despite his power, incumbency, and universal name recognition back home, McConnell was the first incumbent to launch television ads in the 2014 cycle – and he did so 20 months before Election Day.
How worried is the incumbent? Louisville businessman Matt Bevin will launch a GOP primary bid today, so McConnell launched a new attack ad last night.
Politico has a fact-check of the spot – Team McConnell, not surprisingly, left out some pertinent details – but the fact that the incumbent and his team are relying on such a salvo, before a largely unknown rival even gets into the race, tells us quite a bit about the senator’s state of mind.
Looking ahead, there are a couple of angles to keep in mind. For one thing, with McConnell more concerned than ever about his far-right flank, the Senate Minority Leader will be even less inclined to be constructive on Capitol Hill, if that’s possible. With some big fights coming up, the senator’s top goal will be to prove to right-wing activists in Kentucky how much he relishes standing up to Democrats and the White House.
In other words, at a critical time, the Senate Republicans’ leader will be pushing for more gridlock, not less.
For another, the intra-party divisions caused by this primary are likely to be severe.
The conservative Washington Times reported this week:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election push is exposing some fissures in the tea party movement, with national groups supporting his re-election and local groups calling for him to be replaced with a “true conservative.”
The United Kentucky Tea Party slammed two national branches of the grass-roots movement Monday for endorsing the five-term Kentucky Republican, and the group’s spokesman said the state-based tea partyers will back Louisville businessman Matthew Bevins, who is expected to announce Wednesday that he will vie for Mr. McConnell’s seat, forcing a GOP primary.
“We see him a lot in the same vein as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz,” said Scott Hofstra, spokesman for the United Kentucky Tea Party. “If he decides to get into the race, we will support him wholeheartedly.”
“Senator McConnell’s Progressive Liberal voting record, his absolute iron fisted rule over the Republican Party in Kentucky and his willingness to roll over and cede power to President Obama and the Liberals in Washington, prove that he is no friend to the American people or the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” the letter says.
“Your endorsement undermines the work of the real grassroots Tea Party organizations all over Kentucky,” the letter continues. “Had you taken the time to reach out to us, you would have learned that the Tea Parties in Kentucky do NOT support Senator McConnell’s campaign.”
If you thought the GOP Senate primary in Wyoming was likely to be divisive, that’ll probably be nothing in comparison to Kentucky.
It’s too soon to say whether Bevin has a credible shot at success – McConnell has to be considered the favorite, if nothing else because he’s sitting on a giant pile of campaign cash – but the challenger has spent considerable time with conservative activist groups and has enough personal wealth that he’s already scheduled airtime in the state.
And even if Bevin falls short in the primary, the process might take a toll on the incumbent, while a credible Democrat, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, waits for the general election.
Molly Redden has more on why Kentucky “might finally turn” on McConnell next year.