McConnell officially opens 2014 re-election bid as tea party and Democrats still search for challengers

02/02/2013 12:28 PM

Bring on the challengers — whoever they may be, Sen. Mitch McConnell told more than 60 key supporters who packed into his 2014 re-election headquarters Saturday.

It’s the earliest McConnell has ever set up a full-fledged campaign infrastructure for a re-election bid. And perhaps underscoring how difficult McConnell envisions his run for a sixth term to be, the campaign office is in the same building overlooking the Watterson Expressway in Louisville in which he had his first U.S. Senate campaign headquarters in 1984. While McConnell said he’s not superstitious, a good luck charm couldn’t hurt.

McConnell has pledged to run a presidential-style campaign across Kentucky. He said he knows Democrats will be marshaling their resources to unseat him, citing groups like Progress Kentucky that already have mounted protests and pledged to help tea party groups mount a primary challenge against McConnell.

“Look, I welcome these guys,” he said. “The want to fight? We’re ready.”

McConnell also told staff, volunteers and longtime supporters on Saturday morning that he simultaneously will be working in the U.S. Senate to keep President Barack Obama from moving to the political left. Here’s how he linked together his goals in the Senate and his re-election campaign:

McConnell praised campaign manager Jesse Benton, whom the senator called “the best person in the country to help us build” the most extensive statewide campaign Kentucky has seen.

McConnell already has raised more than $10 million for his re-election and has $7.4 million in his campaign account.

But so far, only one person — Owensboro Democrat Ed Marksberry, who got walloped in his race for Congress in 2010 — has announced he would run against McConnell.
null And while some Kentucky tea party groups have been publicly calling for a primary challenge to McConnell, so far none has emerged.

McConnell told reporters Saturday that he isn’t worried about — but is prepared for — a primary campaign. And he said he doesn’t see an irreparable split in the Republican Party or even two GOPs, as the New York Times columnist David Brooks suggested this week.

As for potential Democratic challengers, McConnell remained mum as he has been on how formidable an opponent actress Ashley Judd, whose family is from Kentucky, would be. Judd, who announced last week she is getting a divorce from her husband of 11 years, has said she is considering the race.

Here’s what McConnell said about Judd as well as the effect the rumblings about a primary challenge may have on his job as Senate Republican leader, considering the major debates on the horizon over federal spending cuts and raising the debt ceiling in May:

“My feeling is that I need to do my job as best I can,” McConnell said. “I know I can’t please everybody all of the time. But that’s the nature of leadership.”

About Ryan Alessi

Ryan Alessi joined cn|2 in May 2010 as senior managing editor and host of Pure Politics. He is now pursuing an advanced degree in non-fiction writing from Murray State University and is a regular contributor to Pure Politics. Ryan has covered politics for more than 14 years, including seven years as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Ryan can be reached at purepolitics@twcable.com or @mycn2 on Twitter.

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