Mitch McConnell 2014: Challengers Emerge From All Sides

Mitch McConnell has long been a mainstay in the Republican Party. As the long-time Senate Republican Party leader, McConnell has been among the most vocal critics of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party, and is considered to be among the most influential politicians in Washington today. He has also had a strong presence in his home state of Kentucky, where he has been re-elected five times since his initial election in 1984. However, recent buzz has suggested that Senator McConnell might have a tougher struggle than originally anticipated to retain his seat in the 2014 election.

Based on rising political pressure from both the left and the far right, as well as what appears to be a growing political backlash against mainstream Republicans, particularly from women, the 2014 election might be the closest race that McConnell has fought. While he still is the favorite to win, the McConnell campaign has been unusually active nearly 20 months before the actual election, possibly signifying that they are closely watching the rise of potential Democratic or Tea Party candidates.

McConnell has spearheaded the minority’s push-back against President Obama’s policies. He and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) are considered by many to be the de-facto leaders of the Republican Party today. But McConnell has recently been criticized by many in Kentucky, particularly by Democratic Representative John Yarmuth for opposing the Violence Against Women Act, as well as legislation advocating for equal pay for women in the work place, leading to the belief that female voters in particular are disenchanted with McConnell’s policies.

He has also made headlines recently by releasing an early advertisement where McConnell’s wife and former Secretary of Labor Elaine Cho responds to “far left special interests,” which have supposedly attacked her ethnicity and her Husband for marrying her, as well as praising her husband. 

While there has not been a formal announcement as to who will be running against Senator McConnell, there has been a lot of recent buzz concerning actress and activist Ashley Judd, who many are pushing to run for the seat as a Democrat in 2014. While Judd would undeniably bring star power to the race, and seems to be well-liked within the state, there is concern among some Democratic strategists that Judd’s candidacy would not only fail, but also complicate efforts of more conservative Democrats to resist Republican gains at a local level in Kentucky. Some Democratic strategists have been looking in a different direction, such as Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes. Regardless of this, Republicans appear to be taking a potential Judd candidacy very seriously, having released attack ads against her and spent a good amount of money to get those ads multiple weeks of airtime. Early internal polling from the McConnell campaign suggests that Judd is actually closer than expected, trailing by only 4 points, though it is very early for such polls to be truly accurate.

The bigger threat to McConnell might actually come in the form of a challenger from within the Republican Party. A recent poll asking how many residents would support McConnell regardless of the opposing candidate found that only 34% would support him. In addition, there appears to be evidence that the Tea Party is recruiting Matthew Bevin, a Louisville businessman to run against McConnell in a primary. Bevin would have a large pool of cash to draw from as an executive in the Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Bell Foundry, a potential concern for the McConnell campaign. The successful election of Rand Paul shows that the tea party would likely have a strong support base were they to field a candidate.

Ultimately, it is probably too early to actually know if McConnell is in danger of loosing his seat, as the election is 20 months away and most polling this early will not accurately reflect the opinions of voters in 2014. But considering the activity surrounding the McConnell campaign and the amount of coverage that unconfirmed challengers are getting, it wouldn't be out of the question to see Senator McConnell fighting a tougher race than he has in recent years.