As expected, Mitch McConnell enjoyed a relatively easy victory yesterday over Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin. He then immediately pivoted to the next phase of his reelection campaign, launching an all out attack on his general election opponent: Barack Obama.

That isn’t snark. It was immediately apparent from McConnell’s victory speech — and from a new ad that his actual challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, launched this morning — that both sides view the question of whether McConnell can recast the coming battle as one between himself and the president as a central one that could determine the outcome.

McConnell needs to cast Obama as the primary source of Kentuckians’ economic struggles, so they come to see their vote as one for a GOP-controlled Senate that can further limit the destruction the president continues to inflict upon the state, rather than a direct choice between him and his younger challenger. Given McConnell’s terrible approval ratings — a recent Bluegrass poll put him at 34-52 — a vote for a GOP-controlled Senate very well may be more appetizing to many than a vote for him.

In his victory speech, he repeatedly cast Grimes as a tool of Obama. He said: “A vote for my opponent is a vote for Obamacare, and a president who sold it to us on a mountain of lies. That’s why this race isn’t about one party against another. It’s about a government that thinks it can lie to its own citizens and get away with it.” The election is all about Obama and the law that continues to make you (economically or perhaps even psychologically) miserable.

Meanwhile, Grimes rolled out a new minute long spot — backed by a six-figure statewide buy — that declares independence from Obama:

The ad suggests the Grimes campaign also believes the race will revolve to no small degree around the centrality of Obama. She seeks to channel Washington anger in McConnell’s direction without mentioning him, castigating “leaders in both political parties,” and vows to “put partisanship aside to do what’s right for Kentucky.” This is in keeping with Grimes’s main argument that the real problem is politicians like Mitch McConnell, who has been mired in Washington battles for too long with nothing to show for it at home. That may seem like an obvious point for the campaign to make, but the real goal of it is to turn McConnell’s primary argument — that he must be reelected to stop Obummer from doing maximum damage — into a liability, into part of the problem, creating a framework within which the Grimes camp might make the campaign into a contrast between Grimes’ jobs plan and McConnell’s jobs record.

Also: The evocation of “petty and small” politics contains the germs of a character attack on McConnell — one tied to the broader theme that Washington, not just Obama, is the problem — that could get more explicit over time, given his unpopularity.

Nate Cohn recently argued that Grimes will simply have to make some inroads among GOP-leaning voters to win, partly because Obama has so deeply alienated traditionally Democratic-leaning eastern coal country, where polls show him strong. She’ll need to get some Republicans and keep McConnell’s margin as low as possible in that region. Thus the ferocity of the battle already underway around Obama’s role.

***************************************************************

* McCONNELL’S WIN NOT THAT IMPRESSIVE: Dems are pointing to an analysis by Smart Politics which places McConnell’s victory in context and concludes that it was “hardly an impressive victory”:

The 60 percent won by Mitch McConnell Tuesday is the lowest support registered by a sitting Kentucky U.S. Senator from either party since 1938…On the Democratic side Tuesday, Alison Lundergan Grimes had one of the best primary performances by a non-incumbent Kentucky U.S. Senate candidate over the last 60 years.

Dems hope Bevin supporters alienated by the tough primary stay home in November, but McConnell obviously has plenty of time to get them back. Bevin reportedly won’t say whether he’ll endorse McConnell.

* GRIMES HITS BACK: From Alison Grimes’ speech last night:

Grimes came back fighting in her victory speech, delivering a litany of attacks on the Republican leader she labeled “Senator Gridlock.” She said she is “not an empty dress” and “not a rubber stamp,” but rather a “strong Kentucky woman” and an “independent thinker.”

“Mitch McConnell would have you believe that President Obama is on Kentucky’s 2014 election ballot,” Grimes said. “Senator McConnell, this race is between you and me.”

So Grimes hopes, anyway.

* RUNOFF SET IN GEORGIA: Also as expected, businessman David Purdue triumphed in yesterday’s Georgia Senate primary, and all signs are that he’s set to face Rep. Jack Kingston in a runoff. Make no mistake: Republicans caught a real break here in the elimination of Tea Partyers Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey.

* GEORGIA RUNOFF WILL BE ‘NASTY, BRUTISH, AND LONG’: Politico has a good piece detailing just how ugly the runoff between Purdue and Kingston is likely to be, with both harboring general election liabilities of their own:

The nine-week race ahead of July 22 is certain to not only be a bruising affair — but also entirely unpredictable. It will force the two candidates to run full-fledged campaigns. They’ll launch hard-hitting ads against one another and barnstorm to Republican strongholds mainly in Northern Georgia, courting the small set of activist voters who traditionally dominate runoff elections. That recipe could produce a stronger candidate for the fall, or it could drain the eventual nominee of critical resources.

Also don’t miss Ed Kilgore’s piece detailing that in Georgia, Republicans aren’t out of the Teapot just yet.

* SCOTT BROWN’S STRUGGLES IN NEW HAMPSHIRE CONTINUE: The New York Times’ Upshot blog now gives Brown a whopping three percent chance to win, thanks to his anemic fundraising and recent polls showin him trailing incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen. How much money has Americans for Prosperity lit on fire in New Hampshire at this point?

Also, it can’t help matters that Brown’s entire rationale for running for Senate is that Obamacare sucks, yet when pressed on health care, he has nothing to offer but gibberish.

* SENATE DEMS AGAIN EYING NUCLEAR OPTION: Roll Call reports on Harry Reid’s latest:

“I’m not interested in changing the rules now. But now is a relative term,” the Nevada Democrat told reporters Tuesday. A senior Senate Democratic aide said Democrats would “very seriously consider” changes if they retain the majority, including using the “nuclear option” to change the rules on a simple majority vote.

Still, none of this would impact Republicans’ ability to filibuster legislation; The battle is still confined to nominations, which Republicans continue to stymie despite the rules change Democrats already pushed through.

* RECORD SUPPORT FOR GAY MARRIAGE, BUT REPUBLICANS OPPOSED: Gallup finds that support for legal gay marriage is at an all time high of 55 percent. As always, Republicans and conservatives are all alone here: Among them, only 30 and 31 percent think gay marriage should be legal, while 58 percent of independents and 63 percent of moderates are in support.

It would be interesting to know where support for legal gay marriage stands among young Republicans and conservatives, however. That long-forgotten RNC autopsy explicitly noted that the party should adapt to shifting attitudes among them. Seems quaint now, doesn’t it?

* AND THE FACTOID OF THE DAY, OBAMACARE DERANGEMENT EDITION: Lauren Fox looks at a recent report tallying up the enormous expenditures on anti-Obamacare ads, and ferrets out this:

In Louisiana, for example, 95 percent of the ad spots that have aired against Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu have included some negative reference to Obamacare. In North Carolina, 100 percent of the total ads run against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan have included criticisms.

Does anyone who actually gets paid to win elections really think any of this has done all that much to lessen either Senator’s chances of reelection?

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.