Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) received a conservative rating from the Club for Growth of 87 (out of 100). That is virtually identical to right-wing favorite Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who got 88 percent, and higher than another conservative Republican stalwart, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). McConnell is the No. 1 target, however, for D.C.-based groups that backed the shutdown and that have perfected the search-and-destroy (Republicans, that is) brand of politics.
The anomaly between McConnell’s voting record and the vehemence of opposition from the Senate Conservatives Fund and other outfits isn’t hard to figure. SCF and others demand he and the speaker of the House run the government off the rails (e.g. shut down the government, don’t raise the debt ceiling), and McConnell is the quintessential grown-up who recognizes the way to achieve policy ends is to get from the minority to the majority.
So far, his opponents aren’t having much luck. His tea party opponent, Matt Bevin, is far behind on fundraising and is, by most accounts, “fizzling.” The Post explains: “Bevin was sidetracked last week by the revelation that he backed the TARP program as an investment fund president in 2008, even as he rails against the federal bank bailout initiative these days. The news prompted McConnell’s allies to cast him as a hypocrite. The mounting Bevin problems have arrived as McConnell, while unpopular in Kentucky, has run a steady race. He’s raised money at a fast pace and avoided the kind of eyebrow-raising stories that have plagued other longtime Republican senators facing voters this year.” Bevin also got himself tripped up with his educational credentials, his sit-down with members of the John Birch Society and his egregious remarks about gays. As if that weren’t enough, Bevin is just not that impressive and certainly not impressive enough to level the playing field against McConnell (“Bevin’s been a lackluster campaigner. And McConnell has avoided the you-know-it-when-you-see-it moments that have swiftly hamstrung other senators facing primary threats.”)
Polls show McConnell neck and neck with Democrat Alison Grimes. However, we’ve seen a hint of what is about to hit her. For one thing, she’s got a huge problem in the form of President Obama. She already has struggled to duck questions about whether she will appear with him. (You can bet she’ll be right next to him in ad after ad from McConnell and the National Republican Senate Committee.)
She also has a cultural problem. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has been chiding her for gaining support from former President Bill Clinton and from Woody Allen. The latter may actually have more staying power, and not merely because Allen creeps out a good segment of socially conservative Americans in the heartland. Grimes is the darling of Hollywood in general, who is strongly backing her as a means of toppling McConnell and keeping the Dems in the majority in the Senate. (Maybe they and SCF should fundraise together?) Painting her as out of touch with Kentuckians and joined at the hip with Obama and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on a range of issues — abortion, where she says she is pro-choice “down the line” (does that include late-term abortions?), gay marriage, environmentalism, big government and, of course, Obamacare — is not going to be hard. Grimes will try to distance herself, but, just like every other red-state Democrat, she would be expected to back the president and Reid on key votes.
In fact, McConnell’s 87 score is just about right. He’s a solid conservative who is nevertheless responsible enough not to play to the most extreme elements of the base. That’s a pretty effective way of gaining a center-right coalition in a very red state in a good year for Republicans. There are a lot of people on the right and left blowing a lot of donor money to topple McConnell; you wonder if they’ll soon have second thoughts.