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Mitch McConnell, Electability, and Jim Bunning’s Revenge

One of the favorite narratives propagated by the Republican establishment is that our candidates are “unelectable” loose cannons who will throw the election to the Democrats.  [As if they are suddenly concerned about Democrat policies.]  They try to invoke the name of Christine O’Donnell every time one of their members is challenged in a primary.  Well, it looks like we found the Christine O’Donnell of this election cycle, and his name is Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Back in 2009, Mitch McConnell made it clear to then-Senator Jim Bunning that it was time for him to retire.  He claimed to be scared of losing the seat, and did everything he could to push Bunning into retirement.  McConnell planned to easily inert his protégé, Trey Grayson, into the seat, but a man named Rand Paul upset the apple cart.

As the saying goes, whatever comes around goes around, and now the shoe is on the other foot.  Today, PPP released a poll showing McConnell tied in a hypothetical match-up with little-know Democrat Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.  It also showed him with a 41% approval rating among Independents.  Normally, I wouldn’t be too concerned about a PPP poll of any incumbent Republican.  They probably have most of the incumbents under water in terms of approval.  But here is what does concern me:

  • Kentucky is a state Romney carried by 23 point.  He won 117 of 120 counties.  Yet, McConnell barely won reelection last time.  Despite his unprecedented $21 million relentless media onslaught in a low-cost state, the race was touch-and-go until the very end.  You can complain about PPP, but McConnell is clearly not that well liked in the state, and vividly embodies the status quo for voters across the political spectrum.
  • Any Democrat who is closely tied to Obama should easily lose in a state where 40% of Democrat primary voters turned out to vote against Obama last year.  However, Alison Lundergan Grimes is one of those blank slate, fresh faces who can fashion herself as a populist reformer against the status quo.  She is certainly a leftist in the mold of all national Democrats.  But in her capacity as a new phony blue-dog, she will have the ability to run against McConnell on the tax increase, debt ceiling, and amnesty.  That is how red state Democrats always operate.
  • McConnell is not exactly a charismatic guy, nor is he a smart policy guy.  He has nothing positive to run on.  The way he won reelection was by running $21 million worth of relentlessly negative ads against his male opponent.  Will that work well against a young female, especially coming from him?

Ultimately, Kentucky has become such a red state that it is pretty hard to lose this seat.  Moreover, it is unclear whether Lundergan Grimes will indeed jump into the race.  However, at a time when we must win back the Senate, do we really need to waste another $20 million to hold a state like Kentucky?  Is it worth losing opportunities in other states in order for Republicans to move heaven and earth to save McConnell?  Is he so great for conservatives that he is worth such collateral damage?

Were McConnell to step aside for a fresh Republican face, the results of this race will easily favor a generic Republican – one who is not saddled with years’ worth of backroom deals, big government votes, and support of amnesty.  We will then have more money to spend on other races and move closer to flipping the Senate.

Maybe Rand Paul ought to have the same conversation with local donors that McConnell did in 2009 when he pushed Jim Bunning out the door.

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