LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The event featuring Sen. Mitch McConnell was billed as a "Restore America Rally." As rallies went, it had the rough feeling of a Quaker worship meeting. As campaign events went, the candidate’s name was hardly mentioned.
McConnell spoke halfway through the gathering and left without taking questions or staying to see co-headliner Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. His speech was not lofty. “There’s only one change that can happen this year and that’s to change the Senate,” he said.
“Where are our students?” asked one of the opening speakers, by way of rallying the young people. Two hands — one of which appeared to belong to an elementary school-age boy — went up.
Ambivalence about McConnell himself was the subtext — the main point at the rally was the need to beat the Democrats. Matt Bevin, who had challenged McConnell from the right in the primary, spoke about the importance of the race, mentioning McConnell’s opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes. He declined, however, to actually endorse McConnell, or even say his name.
Asked by local NBC reporter Theo Keith if he would vote for McConnell, Bevin said, “I will vote." But as Keith pointed out, he “didn’t say, ‘for McConnell.’”
The biggest applause lines were when congressional candidate Michael McFarlane talked about stricter Ebola quarantines and when former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina mentioned kicking Harry Reid out as majority leader.
“Anyone that would ever accuse Mitch McConnell of waging a war on women has never met his wife,” Fiorina added. “She’d deck him.”
McConnell, a man whose name in Washington is associated with obstructionism and opposition to campaign finance reform, blamed Democrats for creating an economic recovery in which “the 1% have done great and everyone else has fallen behind.” Referring to the time after Republicans took the House but Democrats held onto the Senate, McConnell said, “The opportunity to do important things during a time of divided government was squandered by this president. And his assignment to Harry Reid was, ‘Don’t do anything. I got the legislation I want. I can do whatever I want to through the people who work for me. Your job is to do nothing.’ And boy, Harry has done a great job of that.”
Those in the Ramada Plaza banquet room, which was about three-quarters full, did not thrill to McConnell’s discussion of who had voted in a roll call on an amendment.
But McConnell did say something the audience seemed to want to hear: “There’s nobody in America the liberals want to beat more than the guy you’re looking at, and I’m proud of my enemies.”
Later on, Jindal stressed the importance of Republicans keeping the House but stuck to his own standard lines: Wondering if Obama understood the Constitution, defending "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson, and bemoaning the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, despite the fact that the owners of Hobby Lobby won their case. “Why was that a 5-4 win?” wondered Jindal. “Why wasn’t that a 9-0?”
There were some McConnell fans at the event. “I think people don’t understand what can be done as a minority leader,” said Larry Drake, 72. His son, Jonathan Drake, 43, said, “He’s a heck of a leader. He’s good on guns. He’s good on pro-life.”
Asked why McConnell was unpopular in the state, Norman Jeffries, 83, said, “There’s a lot of propaganda from the other side. He’s been in 30 years. But these are all false causes for not electing him.”
Enthusiasm matters in an election, but it isn't everything.