Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is predicting a difficult midterm election year for his party, likening it this week to a severe storm.
“This is going to be a challenging election year,” McConnell said in a Tuesday interview with the Kentucky Today editorial board. “We know the wind is going to be in our face. We don’t know whether it’s going to be a Category 3, 4 or 5.”
The interview marked some of the bluntest comments this year by the top Senate Republican, who is defending a 51-49 majority in November. McConnell raised the possibility that Republicans will lose their House majority. In doing so, he offered a potential argument Republican Senate candidates could use on the campaign trail.
“I’m hoping we can hold the Senate,” he said, “and the principal reason for that, even if we were to lose the House and be stymied legislatively, we could still approve appointments, which is a huge part of what we do.”
McConnell’s remarks came as other prominent Republicans have been issuing warnings about the midterms. After a Wisconsin Supreme Court win by Democrats on Tuesday, Republican Gov. Scott Walker warned of a “#BlueWave” in a post on Twitter.
The Republican leader has been warning about the difficult climate for months. “We go into this cleareyed that this is going to be quite a challenging election,” he told the New York Times in February.
McConnell has frequently said that the Senate is in “the personnel business,” referring to its power to confirm executive branch nominees and federal judges. Last year, McConnell said the “single biggest issue in bringing Republicans home” in the 2016 election “was the Supreme Court.” That year, McConnell refused to fill a Supreme Court vacancy until after the election, making it an issue for voters to decide on in the campaign.
While recent special elections have shown there is a lot of energy in the Democratic Party, largely because of anger with President Trump, winning back control of the Senate will not be easy for the minority party. Democrats are defending seats in 10 seats in states Trump won in 2016. These include West Virginia and North Dakota, where Trump won by a wide margin.
For many conservative activists, judicial nominees are an important issue, giving McConnell’s emerging pitch on behalf of Republican Senate candidates some potential to energize them. At the same time, McConnell is battling against criticism from some on the right that he has not been an effective leader. Even Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, whom McConnell helped recruit to run for the Senate, would not commit to supporting him as leader if he is elected.
“I think it’s a little premature to say who I would and wouldn’t vote for,” Hawley said in a recent interview with The Washington Post.