Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY


May 24, 2013

Who will challenge McConnell?

GLASGOW — I’ve spent years watching Mitch

McConnell, several of them interviewing

and reporting on him.

Over time I’ve seen how difficult

it is for a challenger to beat Mc-

Connell even though he’s not

beloved, even by many in his own

party who have consistently voted

for him. I tend to dismiss early polls

which show he’s vulnerable in 2014.

As Al Cross, the director of the Institute

for Rural Journalism and

Community Issues at the University

of Kentucky, points out, McConnell

never runs a race based on the last

campaign. He’s always prepared for

the next one and he’s always better

funded. As the infamous surreptitious

recording of his campaign

strategy session demonstrates, his

opposition research never takes a


Kentucky Democrats apparently

agree with me. None seems to want

to risk a brutal campaign against a

man who always makes the race

about his opponent rather than about

him. That’s why many Democrats

think Secretary of State Alison Lundergan

Grimes is the best opponent

for McConnell. Her youth, gender

and lack of a long or controversial

public record, plus her presumed

ability to raise money through family

and friendship with the Clintons,

Democrats believe, make her a difficult


Grimes says she won’t be “bullied”

into a decision, but there are

risks if she delays much longer. If

Grimes doesn’t make a decision

soon, McConnell or an allied Super-

Pac may mount a pre-emptive strike

just as they did against Ashley Judd.

If those attacks create negative impressions

of Grimes they may follow

and haunt her in future races for other

offices even if she doesn’t run

against McConnell. Grimes also

risks blame for “freezing the field” if

she decides not to

run and Democrats

can’t recruit a

top-tier candidate

— which clearly

they’re having

difficulty doing


If she is going

to run, she needs

to start raising

money quickly.

McConnell has

already raised

more than $12


Grimes or some other declared Democrat

is busy raising money, Mc-

Connell will be spending his attacking

the Democrat who won’t likely

have the ability to respond quickly.

By the time Grimes or another Democrat

has the resources to try to get

voters to focus on McConnell, it

may be too late.

I’ve also been skeptical about a

competitive tea party challenge.

Rand Paul and Thomas Massie

aren’t available, so who is there?

But tea party sources insist there will

be one.

McConnell’s own behavior seems

to indicate he fears a challenge from

the right. His campaign recently circulated

stories of an endorsement by

a national tea party group. Mc-

Connell has relentlessly attacked

President Barack Obama and he’s

pounced on the AP subpoena and

IRS controversies, accusing Obama’s

administration of a “jihad”

against opponents (a little subliminal

message for those on the far right

who suspect Obama is a secret Muslim?).

He’s jumped on Paul’s bandwagon,

including support for industrial

hemp. He hired Paul operative Jesse

Benton to manage his campaign—

at least through the primary. He even

stood side by side at a press conference

with Michelle Bachman, the tea

party Congresswoman from Minnesota

who never met a conspiracy

theory she didn’t like.

In 2008, McConnell ran on his

seniority and influence in the Senate,

boasting of his ability to bring federal

funds back to Kentucky. That

won’t work with those on his right

in today’s climate. He’s trying to recast

his image as an enemy of big

government spending and a friend of

the tea party and liberty groups.

We’ll see if that works. But it’s

clearly an indication McConnell sees

a threat from the right.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News

Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach

him at Follow CNHI

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