Does McConnell’s Role in Reopening the Government Help or Hurt Back Home?

Remember James Watson?

Back in the day, he was a Republican senator from Indiana. In 1926, in a bid for a full second term, he survived his re-election bid by the barest of margins. Six years later, in 1932, a disastrous year for the national economy and the GOP, Watson lost his seat in a landslide.

I mention the ordinarily forgettable Mr. Watson because he was the last Republican Senate leader to be defeated by the voters back home. The current Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, wants to keep it that way. On the other hand, if his Democratic and Tea Party opponents back home in Kentucky have their way, McConnell will join Watson in the history books.

It is fair to say that McConnell may be the most vulnerable Senate GOP incumbent heading into the 2014 midterms. But he’s been counted out before. And while the role he played in helping to end the government shutdown may not go over well with the conservatives back home, it once again showed how the party has to rely on him over and over, crisis after crisis. One wonders how many lives he has left.

To be sure, McConnell did not want to be in this position. It would have been nice, he surely thought, if Speaker John Boehner could have united his colleagues behind their own strategy to figure something out. They didn’t. Regardless, none of the House GOP leaders – Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor or Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy – has election concerns back home. Not so McConnell. He is being challenged not only by Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the likely Democratic nominee, but a Tea Party conservative first-time candidate, businessman Matt Bevin, who says McConnell is one of the chief reasons why Washington no longer works.

Indeed, a poll out last week by the Dem-leaning Public Policy Polling firm has Lundergan Grimes ahead of McConnell by two points.

But trailing in the polls is not new for McConnell. He was left for dead in the 1984 (his first), 1990 and 2008 campaigns, and he came back to win each time. He is a canny, smart pol who has shown he will do whatever it takes to win. Another budget/debt ceiling crisis next year will the latest occasion to test his skills. You know that he would love nothing better than to avoid another budget crisis just months away before his primary in May. And you know his opponents back home, on the left and right, will be watching once again.

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