McConnell doubles down on outsider candidates

If you missed any of this year's primaries -- or just forgot -- here are the names and faces you need to know in November.
By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2010; 11:07 AM

The consummate Senate insider, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has spent the past six weeks stumping across the nation for Republicans who fashion themselves as outsiders ready to storm the Capitol.

The Senate minority leader, hoping to swap that title for "majority leader," has mounted an under-the-radar campaign that has emphasized fundraising for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. But he has also mixed in a series of public and private appearances with many Senate candidates who have vowed to shake up the status quo in Washington.

There was a fundraiser with ex-businesswoman Carly Fiorina, trying to unseat Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and a fundraising dinner with Marco Rubio, the conservative Floridian who forced Gov. Charlie Crist (I) out of the Republican Party. Later this week, McConnell will welcome Sharron Angle - the "tea party" favorite from Nevada trying to oust Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) - to a fundraiser in Washington.

McConnell's warm embrace of the outsiders could become awkward if Christine O'Donnell, long considered a conservative gadfly in Delaware's political circles, defeats party favorite Rep. Mike Castle in Tuesday's primary to fill the seat once held by Vice President Biden.

McConnell has backed efforts by leading Delaware Republicans to portray O'Donnell as unstable and incapable of winning the general election in liberal-leaning Delaware. A loss by Castle may prompt the GOP to abandon Delaware altogether, in order to shore up its position in the other 15 or so races that need tending.

No decision has been made, and party strategists are keeping their fingers crossed that Castle, a prohibitive favorite in the general election, can pull out the win.

Otherwise, McConnell is doubling down on his crop of candidates, embracing their wide diversity and the surprising level of energy he has seen created by their campaigns.

"I've never seen anything like it, and then you see the poll data," McConnell said in a telephone interview last week as he crisscrossed Kentucky on behalf of another outsider candidate, Rand Paul, the libertarian doctor who defeated a McConnell protege in a May primary.

The data show Republicans tied or ahead in Kentucky and the four other GOP-held seats in which the incumbent is retiring, as well as clear Republican leads in five races for seats currently held by Democrats, including Delaware.

If those polling trends hold firm, McConnell's chances of vaulting from leading a near powerless caucus of 41 Republicans to heading up a 51-seat majority would hinge on the outcome of a handful of toss-up races on Democratic turf.

Success would vault McConnell into his long-held dream of becoming majority leader, placing him alongside Rep. John A. Boehner (Ohio), the likely House speaker in such an electoral washout, as the most powerful Republicans in the nation.

Boehner, currently the House minority leader, has mounted a national campaign for speaker, pledging to change the way that chamber does business. The White House and its allies have made critiquing Boehner a key part of their closing argument strategy in the final 50 days of the campaign.

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