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A Real Challenge for McConnell?

After adding Kentucky's Senate race to our most recent Friday Line, we were interested to see how long it took national Democrats to find a candidate with the potential to make a serious run at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Well, that was quick. State Attorney General Greg Stumbo (D) floated his name in the Louisville Courier-Journal today -- a sign that he may be moving toward becoming a candidate.

For the moment, Stumbo has formed an exploratory committee that will allow him to raise money for a potential race against McConnell. It's a smart first step given that McConnell is one of the most feared fundraisers in the country and ended June with a whopping $5.8 million in the bank.

So, assuming he is running, should McConnell be worried?

Maybe.

First elected the state's top cop in 2003, Stumbo has emerged as the most vocal and persistent critic of the ethical problem swirling around Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.) As a result, he is widely known across the state and has a reputation as a fighter for the average Kentuckian. That's good.

Stumbo also has publicly acknowledged that he fathered a child out-of-wedlock. and was arrested for drunk driving --later reduced to a lesser charge in the early 1990s. That's not good.

A quick survey of unaffiliated Democrats in Kentucky portray Stumbo as a candidate with real political skills on the stump but major questions when it comes to fundraising. During his time in the state legislature and then as attorney general, Stumbo has never raised more than $400,000 for a race. He'd need a heck of a lot more than that to make a serious run at McConnell.

And, it's not entirely clear that Stumbo would have the primary field to himself or that the national party would clear it out for him. Wealthy businessman Charlie Owen has been making news about a potential race but that talk has quieted somewhat of late. Brunce Lunsford, who headed a gubernatorial ticket that featured Stumbo as lieutentant governor, has now lost two statewide races in the past four years and seems disinclined to run again. Democrats' best candidate -- Rep. Ben Chandler -- has already signalled party leaders privately that he won't run.

Given those hurdles why shouldn't you write off Stumbo's chances?

Because the playing field in politics often matters as much or more than the players. And, the playing field in Kentucky couldn't get much worse for McConnell. It's the double whammy of a very tough state political environment -- thanks to Fletcher -- and a difficult national environment thanks to President Bush and the war in Iraq. (We saw a similar double whammy in Ohio last cycle leading to Democratic wins for governor and Senate.)

As the highest ranking Republican in the Senate, McConnell is a lightning rod for Democratic critics of Republican politcies both in the state and nationally. As Fix friend and renowned political analyst Stu Rothenberg has said, McConnell could have problems similar to that of then Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) in his 2004 re-election race. Daschle's role as the leader of his party in Washington made it impossible for him to convince Republican and Republican-leaning voters back in South Dakota that he was one of them.

Luckily for McConnell, Kentucky is not nearly as blue (in political terms) as South Dakota is red. President Bush won the state with 57 percent in 2000 and 60 percent. And Republicans not only hold the two Senate seats but also control four of the six House seats.

But, it would be a mistake to cast Kentucky as a Republican stronghold either. Democratic Reps. Ben Chandler and John Yarmouth have taken over formerly GOP-held seats over the past few cycles and former Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear (D) is a favorite to defeat Fletcher this November in the governor's race.

For Stumbo or any other Democrat -- other than Chandler -- to have a chance of running close or even beating McConnell, the national and state environment need to stay right where they are or even get worse for Republicans.

If McConnell becomes the poster boy of the war in Iraq and Republican obstructionism, whoever the Democratic nominee is could benefit from a huge influx of national money aimed at sending the Minority Leader a message. And, don't forget that at the end of June the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had a four-to-one cash-on hand advantage over the National Republican Senatorial Committee at the end of June.

In other words, keep an eye on the race. Stumbo isn't an "A" candidate but he isn't an "F" either. This race has potential despite McConnell's significant political chops and fundraising capacity.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 24, 2007; 3:37 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Comments

Quite frankly I am amazed that people still give 2 cents about politicians personal lives. Most folks understand they are human. Looking at what they are holding over Stumbo's head, it appears this stuff is almost 2 decades old.

Nobody ever makes an issue about McConnell being homosexual. But, they should raise h*ll about his record on the Hill.

Get over it. Now the question is, what would Stumbo do in Washington?

Posted by: Anonymous | August 2, 2007 8:47 PM | Report abuse

I don't know KY -- visited for the 1st time this year -- but I agree McConnell is a money machine. That said, his approval rating was 52% in a January SurveyUSA poll. Not that stellar but probably adequate.

In comparison, Gordon Smith is at 51% in April -- regaining a few points after baring his anguished soul on Iraq. This part of the country has a lot of people fed up with the war.

Speculation: Deep-blue deep pocket Washington state has no senators up this time, so money from here could move south to support a challenger to Smith.

Posted by: Scott in PacNW | July 25, 2007 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Reason -- I think Maine may be more comparable to Rhode Island, actually. Dems did win that one, as you may recall. I agree, however, that McConnel is unlikely to lose unless it's a REALLY big year for the Democrats.

Out of curiosity, what makes you think Montana is a vulnerable seat? Rehnberg has already passed on challenging Baucus, who is hugely popoular, and no other prominent Republican candidates have emerged. Really, there's no one on the bench other than Rehnberg who would have a chance against Max anyway, so I'm curious why you list that as a target...

Posted by: Colin | July 25, 2007 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I believe that Kentucky voters are angry at the state party for Flether's doings. But, the good news for McConnell, is that Flether is up for re-election this year in 07. In just a few months. The situation was bad in 04', when senator Bunning survived. McConnell is much more popular in Ky than is Bunning. Voters will likely alleviate their anger at whom they are angry at, gov. Flether here in 07'. This likely means Ky goes dem. in 07'. But by 08', McConnell will be voted on by his own conservative merits, and this fits Ky nicely. He will raise money and survive whatever the dems throw at him. He will be a US senator from Ky as long as he wants to be. He's propably hoping in the future for more.

Emcee, I think your right about the bait. In NJ this year Republicans will spend tremendous amts. of money trying to win that senate seat. It likely won't happen, again this year. But again they will try. KY will likely be this way for dems...as will Maine, Va. with sen. Warner and Oregon with sen. Smith. The dems. should focus on trying to win Minn. and NH while Republicans should focus on trying to win La., South Dakota and Montana. Those are the real vulnerabilities of 08.

Posted by: reason | July 25, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

I think stumbo will win. he is a true blue democrat.

Posted by: yellowdem | July 25, 2007 2:27 AM | Report abuse

stumbo is a great guy, he will win the election

Posted by: Anonymous | July 25, 2007 2:25 AM | Report abuse

The electorate is mad at Bush, and it is noticeable that most of the Republicans breaking ranks with the President on Iraq are due for re-election in 08.

McConnell could get squeezed by his need to back the President (Senate leader and all) and need to condemn Iraq (for re-election chances). A strong Dem candidate could help the Dems nationally push the McConnell led Senate Repubs to be more critical of Bush, and perhaps make some changes in Iraq. That would mean McConnell still wins, but Dems get some progress in the Senate.

However, I think McConnell will survive. His best tactic is to stand shoulder to shoulder as often as possible with the Republican candidate for 08. That will help distance him from Bush...

Posted by: JayPe | July 24, 2007 8:35 PM | Report abuse

emcee writes
"In New Jersey, almost every cycle, the Dems sucker the GOP into throwing money away on some "close" Senate or Gov. race that they're sure to lose.

The KY senate race looks like the same thing in reverse."


Not a bad theory. But there may be one fly in the ointment: available funds. Don't the Dems have a ton more money than the Dems? And don't the Repubs have more races to defend this time around?

Its really too early to know how any of this will play out, but there's the potential for another perfect storm blowing Republicans out of office. As the Bush admin continues to slide into oblivion, and the GOP ranks start splitting from the Bush/neocon movement, to what new direction and/or leader will they gravitate? The GOP Pres front-runners want to both distance themselves from the Bush Iraq/GWOT legacy, without turning into appeasers or surrender-monkeys. Its a thin line to walk, and with vast numbers of Americans fed up with the status quo, its hard to see how Republicans will be able to distance themselves from both Bush and Democrats in order to maintain their seats.

Posted by: bsimon | July 24, 2007 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Mark - text to P-E-A-C-E for loads of junk mail.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2007 6:00 PM | Report abuse

I'm hate filled? This coming from a republican who cannot even leave his name when he posts. Hahahahahahahah. Envelope stuffing? Does that even make any sense? Wow, you're full of invective. Lighten up!

Posted by: Kos Koward | July 24, 2007 5:41 PM | Report abuse

Loudoun, I apologize for having offended you by suggesting that your ultimate vote was predictable. I, of course, do not know how you will vote, nor do I know how Cassandra, Mike, or proud will vote.
I welcome their tuition as well.

So that you understand why a simpleton lawyer in Texas like me could have erred, it came from my having read phrases from you like

"... contard-dominated GOP..."

that seemed weighted with, oh, a certain level of contempt for that entire one-third of the country who register as Rs.

Now I am led to understand that you were merely exaggerating to make a point, and that you are open to many views.

Colin, may I please substitute you for LV in my example of persons whose ultimate vote in the Presidential election will be predictably D?

Posted by: Mark in Austin | July 24, 2007 5:38 PM | Report abuse

For no apparent reason I have been receiving email from Stumbo for months which is automatically referred to my "bulk mail" folder and deleted. I never read it and did not know who he was until I read this thread.

My close friend from Rice undergraduate days is a columnist on the Louisville Courier and I am thinking this was his doing.

Posted by: Mark in Austin | July 24, 2007 5:28 PM | Report abuse

I see ignorant Kos koward has finished his envelope stuffing and is ready to offer his subversive and hate-filled view of the world for us all to enjoy.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 24, 2007 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Well that's because you hate humanity, Mike. Now let go shoot some people. Bush is bringing the beer! Watch out though, Laura's driving!

Posted by: Cheney | July 24, 2007 4:50 PM | Report abuse

emcee - I think you have something there.

Posted by: kingofzouk | July 24, 2007 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Sucker Bet.

In New Jersey, almost every cycle, the Dems sucker the GOP into throwing money away on some "close" Senate or Gov. race that they're sure to lose.

The KY senate race looks like the same thing in reverse.

Posted by: emcee | July 24, 2007 4:40 PM | Report abuse

A voice-over says crime dropped 56 percent during Giuliani's tenure. The unseen narrator also tells voters that welfare rolls in New York City dropped 58 percent and that Giuliani turned a $2.3 billion deficit into "a multibillion-dollar surplus and cut or eliminated 23 taxes."

Posted by: the anti-hillary | July 24, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Giving to a candidate or party in quarter two of eight is not an indication of political preference. It is simply an acknowledgment of who is running the show for now. It is the same old buying of access. when the election comes closer, the corporations will max out to every Repub candidate as well and the numbers will approach parity. these companies hedge bets on both sides. don't get too excited Libs, numbers are not your strong suit.

Posted by: kingofzouk | July 24, 2007 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Just to follow up on DCAustinite's surprisingly deep and thoughtful analysis...

I'd rather go hunting with Cheney than driving with Stumbo

Posted by: Mike | July 24, 2007 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Fathered a child out of wedlock? He's got the republican Senator and representative vote!

Posted by: DCAustinite | July 24, 2007 4:00 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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