McConnell Re-Election Campaign Manager “Holds Nose”

The re-election campaign of a Congressional party leader should be a formality. To become a party leader, one must win re-election once or twice to establish the requisite seniority and trust of one’s peers. So, the leaders tend to come from safe districts. However, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is not leading by much in the polls, and his campaign is dysfunctional. There’s even a chance he will lose the primary next year.

The clearest evidence of Senator McConnell’s troubles aired yesterday. In a recorded, private conversation (not a good thing), campaign manager Jesse Benton said, “Between you and me, I’m sort of holding my nose for two years because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand {Paul] in ’16, so that’s my long vision.”

To understand this statement, one must take a look at the recent political developments in Kentucky. Rand Paul, son of Texas Congressman and sort-of libertarian Ron Paul, won the Republican primary in 2010 for senate against Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, whom Mr. McConnell had backed. It was a victory of the Tea Party populists over the local party establishment.

Jesse Benton was communications manager for Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential effort. He also ran Rand Paul’s 2010 senate campaign. In 2012, he worked as political director of Ron Paul;s White House bid. And he happens to be married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter.

Mr. McConnell hired him because he can mobilize the Tea Party faction in a way the senator himself has not been able to do. And as the quotation that leaked explained, Mr. Benton is collecting markers for his relative’s 2016 presidential bid.

Except there is something that isn’t working. Running against Mr. McConnell in the primary is Tea Partier Matt Bevin. Mr Bevin is behind, but Mr. Benton’s statement is a ready-made radio ad. One can expect Mr. McConnell’s polling strength to weaken. Back in January, one poll suggested his support then was a thin 34% against all challengers, hardly where one would expect the Senate Minority Leader to be,

And the Democrats think they can take the seat. They are backing Secretary of State Alison Lundgren Grimes. A poll from last week has her ahead of Mr. McConnell 45% to 44%. The poll trends left by a couple of points, but the fact that he hasn’t got a double-digit lead should worry him.

The trouble he faces now is a staff that may appear to have divided loyalties, which the press will pursue for a good story. He must tack to the right to win the primary, and then, he has to hope he hasn’t moved too far right for the general election. Worse, he isn’t in control of the legislative agenda in the senate. Harry Reid is as the Democrats have the majority. And he isn’t in charge of the radical right in the House of Representatives. No one is. He will get the responsibility for events without the power to affect them.