The Washington Post

Meet the kinder, gentler Mitch McConnell

When you think of Mitch McConnell, the first words that come to mind are: Tough, political realist, unapologetic and the like. "Warm" is not one of them. And yet, McConnell's new ad — which tells the story of a man struggling with throat cancer after being exposed to radiation in a chemical plant accident in Paducah, Ky. — seeks to paint the senator in a decidedly caring light.

Here's the ad.

Democrats have made a fuss over the fact that McConnell used the ad in the 2008 campaign and, according to some reports, it tells something short of the full story. Three points on that: (1) A 60-second ad doesn't tell the whole of a complicated story? Gasp! (2) A politician cherry-picks a piece of a story that paints him in a favorable light as he runs for reelection? Double gasp! (3) That McConnell ran the ad in his previous campaign suggests it worked — since he won. What's the harm in redoing what works?

Putting aside that sort of typical partisan back and forth, the ad is a telling indicator of what (and whom) McConnell is worried about in his coming reelection race. He quite clearly is aware of the danger of being cast as a robotic practitioner of just the sort of raw politics people detest (even though that sort of politics often is what gets things done). This ad is an attempt to pre-but (or maybe rebut) that coming attack from Democrats. It portrays a McConnell who is fighting for the little guy in Kentucky, not worried solely about more obscure issues such as the filibuster or campaign finance that captivate official Washington and virtually no one else.

While McConnell undoubtedly wants to reinforce the idea that he is more than a sort of political enforcer to everyone in the state, the ad's message and tone seem particularly targeted at female voters. That suggests that McConnell is most worried not about the primary challenge from wealthy businessman Matt Bevin in May but rather the general election against Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in November. The path to victory for Grimes in a state that quite clearly leans toward Republicans is to peel away GOP-leaning female voters who have sided with McConnell in past elections. (Somewhat surprising factoid: McConnell won women voters 50 percent to 49 percent in his race against Democrat Bruce Lunsford in 2008.) McConnell is moving to blunt that strategy — how successfully remains to be seen.

Here's the big takeaway from the ad: McConnell and his team are focused on Grimes, not Bevin. At least for now.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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