What are the chances Democrats could defeat Trump’s most powerful enabler, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2020?
Tal Axelrod reports at The Hill that “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) approval rating is underwater in Kentucky ahead of his reelection race next year, according to a new Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey released Thursday.” Further,
About 33 percent of registered Kentucky voters polled approve of the job McConnell is doing, while 56 percent disapprove and 11 percent are unsure. Additionally, 32 percent think McConnell “deserves to be reelected,” and 61 percent think it’s “time for someone new.”
Despite low approval ratings, McConnell holds a razor-thin lead against a generic Democratic opponent. About 45 percent of Kentucky voters say they would vote for the Senate leader and 42 percent say they would support a “Democratic opponent.” About 12 percent are unsure.
Exactly half of the people surveyed in the PPP poll said they supported McConnell in 2014.
Axelrod also cites a “Morning Consult poll, which “found last month that the Kentucky Republican was the third most unpopular senator in the country, with 47 percent of Kentuckians disapproving with his job performance. However, notes Axelrod, “McConnell consistently polls poorly but has been serving in the Senate since 1985.”
McConnell will be 78 in 2020, but there are no indications that he is interested in retiring, so Democrats have to assume he will be running, and he is vulnerable.
Democrats who are interested in taking him on, however, should take note of his strategy and strengths. Ed Kilgore noted last year that “McConnell’s M.O. in Kentucky is not so much to improve his own image as to drag his opponents down to his own level of unpopularity using his vast fundraising ability. He also has, of course, a general election advantage based on his state’s partisan leanings, which have been trending Republican for a good while.”
Also, McConnell’s constituents know that as, Majority Leader, he has the power to bring home the pork, which is a big plus for smaller to midsize states. He is also shrewd, disciplined and not particularly bound to any moral code when it comes to the pursuit of power. If McConnell needs Trump to help mobilize his base, Trump will surely campaign for him. And we can be sure that he will get all the money he needs from his corporate sugar-daddies.
For Democrats, however, the big question is, who can they run? As for possible oponents, Axelrod writes, “Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is reportedly courting former Marine fighter pilot and recent congressional candidate Amy McGrath to challenge McConnell next year. Steven Cox, a Kentucky health care advocate, already declared his candidacy in the race.” McGrath lost her 2018 race for KY-6 to Republican Andy Barr, who received 51 percent of the vote to McGrath’s 47.8.
In her Washington Monthly article, “The Guy Who Could Beat Mitch McConnell in 2020,” Nancy LeTourneau notes:
it’s probably too early to start thinking about individual senate races in 2020, but what if I told you that it is possible that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could be beaten? Most people would probably assume that is because he is the most unpopular senator in his home state, with approval ratings at around -25. But that was the case before he ran for re-election in 2014, and he still won.
The reason McConnell could lose is because of someone named Matt Jones, who happens to be Kentucky’s favorite sports radio host. Jones is actively considering a challenge to the Senate Majority Leader, which would launch one of the most fascinating races of the season…Matt Jones says that he will make an announcement sometime this summer about whether he’ll run against McConnell in 2020.
LeTourneau believes Jones has the kind of working-class cred that might take a big enough bite out of McConnell’s base. She quotes from a Politico profile of Jones, which notes,
Jones is a liberal populist—an outspoken champion of worker’s rights, a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-wrestling NASCAR enthusiast—looking to recapture the Trump vote from Republicans in a state the president won by nearly 30 points in 2016…
When pressed, he identifies as a “Southern populist progressive,” wary of using the term “liberal” in his home state. He is a proponent of Obamacare and marijuana legalization, generally an advocate of free trade and lowering the corporate tax, bullish on union rights and a vocal opponent of corporate welfare. These stances almost universally find root not in party allegiance but in the effect on Kentucky’s working class, a mooring so deep that Jones says he would vote against his personal beliefs in the Senate—on coal, for instance—if he felt it was in the best interest of his constituents.
Other possible opponents for McConnell include: former Attorney Genera Jack Conway, who ran for governor in 2015 but lost to Matt Bevin and earlier to Sen. Rand Paul; Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes, who lost to McConnell by more than 16 percent in 2014; former State Auditor Adam Edelen; Andy Beshear, current Attorney General and son of former Governor Steve Beshear; and actress Ashley Judd, who has never run for office.
There are currently no candidates announced, other than Cox. But they have until Jan 30th of 2020 to file to run for the Senate.
McConnelll seems almost invulnerable to many, as a result of the power plays he has successfully pulled off in recent years, which got more coverage than his failures. But Democrats have tremendous motivation to defeat McConnell, and the 2016 Democratic victories hold out the hope that voters may be tiring of Republican corruption and gridlock, with shutdown-enabler Mitch McConnell serving as as poster-boy. McConnell has also recently suggested cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits, which, if properly publicized, can only add to growing doubts about his leadership among Kentucky working families.
LeTourneau adds that “candidates running in red states like Beto O’Rourke, Stacey Abrams, and Andrew Gillum challenged the traditional Democratic formula of scripted centrism by running on progressive positions combined with authenticity. While the new approach didn’t get any of them over the top, they all came much closer than Democrats have performed in the past, so it’s certainly worth a try in Kentucky.”