McConnell Still Strong with Conservative Base Despite Crisis

Thursday, 03 Oct 2013 03:59 PM

By John Gizzi

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As the GOP establishment in Washington battles with President Barack Obama over the spending bill and upcoming debt-ceiling limit, one winner has emerged: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Ever since the Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, decided to ram Obamacare and Obama's 2009 $800 billion stimulus program through the chamber, McConnell has remained a persistent thorn in the White House's side, preventing any liberal legislation from moving.

For doing so, McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has won plaudits from conservatives and tea party activists.

Urgent: Do You Support Sen. Ted Cruz's Efforts to Defund Obamacare? Vote Here.

Still, McConnell is facing a tough re-election next year, with an expected well-funded Democrat and a primary challenge from his own party.

Just last week, Jeff Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation and a powerful fund-raiser for national Democrats, held an event at his Beverly Hills home that raised more than $1 million for McConnell's Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

In addition, there are reports Katzenberg plans to contribute to several Democratic super-PACs working for McConnell's defeat.

Katzenberg is not to be taken lightly by Republicans: In the 2012 election cycle, the Hollywood mogul raised and contributed in excess of $6 million to Democratic candidates and causes.

"That's what we Kentucky conservatives have to be worried about," state Sen. Damon Thayer, the Republican floor leader, told Newsmax. "At a time when Mitch McConnell is under fire, it makes no sense at all to have to deal with a primary challenge as well — especially when we have a senator who has led for conservatism for more than a generation."

In fact, support among leaders and different factions in the conservative movement is near-unanimous for McConnell, whose earliest political hero was Barry Goldwater and who came into the Senate in 1984 as Ronald Reagan was re-elected president.

However news reports of McConnell's upcoming bid for a sixth term portray the challenge in the May primary from Louisville businessman Matt Bevin as opposition from the "tea party."  But in reality, Bevin is receiving only small support from the fractious groups that identify under that name.

For example, both the co-founder of the Louisville Tea Party and the Tea Party News Network (TPNN) – a national clearinghouse for tea party groups nationwide – have weighed in strongly for the Senate leader.

And fellow Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, two favorites of the tea party movement elected in 2010, also are vigorously supporting McConnell's re-election.

ObamaCare: You Can Win With The Facts

Louisville City Councilwoman Marilyn Parker, co-founder of Louisville Tea Party, weighed in for McConnell, saying there was not "any doubt about my support for Sen. Mitch McConnell's conservative record, his leadership role in Washington representing Kentucky and our national interests, and his leadership knowledge for getting the right policies implemented."

"The national tea party doesn't want to sit here and go against anything a local tea party group says," Scottie Hughes of the TPNN told reporters in Washington recently. "That being said, however, we need to look to make sure that we're properly vetting our candidates, which is something the tea party has done very badly in the past. We, as a national tea party, are encouraging this local tea party group: You need to sit down and vet the candidate you've picked, vet his background, make sure that he's not just coming out as kind of a loose cannon as a tea party candidate."

While not making a specific reference to Bevin, Hughes cited as a case of an unvetted tea party candidate the Delaware Senate bid of Christine O'Donnell, who drew nationwide attention in 2010 by upsetting the much-favored Rep. Mike Castle in the Republican primary, only to lose badly in the general election.

The National Right to Life Committee, the nation's oldest pro-life group, and state affiliate Kentucky Right to Life came out vigorously for McConnell earlier this year. NRTLC President Carol Tobias hailed the Kentuckian as "among the most skillful obstacles to the forces pushing radical anti-life agendas."

Margie Montgomery, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, said that she and fellow abortion foes in the state "have a deep appreciation" for McConnell's "outstanding leadership."

National conservative leaders who support McConnell have voiced surprise that, given his record, there is any challenge at all.

"Mitch has a 100 percent right to life score, an 'A' from the NRA, a perfect 100 percent from the American Conservative Union, and he's the one man primarily responsible for uniting Senate Republicans against Obamacare," noted former Arkansas governor and 2008 presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee in a letter on McConnell's behalf. "And he’s kept the Senate united."

Huckabee's view was seconded by Bill Bennett, the former U.S. secretary of education who's now a conservative radio talk-show host.

Urgent: Do You Support Sen. Ted Cruz's Efforts to Defund Obamacare? Vote Here.

Recalling how he and McConnell "have fought alongside each other in many battles over the years," Bennett said the senator "has a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union and is one of the most conservative and consistent leaders I have ever worked with."

Referring to McConnell's primary challenge, Bennett said: "He is one of us. We need to fight with Mitch, not against him."

A recent survey among likely Republican voters in Kentucky shows McConnell leading Bevin by a margin of 68 percent to 21 percent. Based on that poll and McConnell's support in conservative ranks, calling his opponent "the conservative challenger" seems like another case of media bias.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.



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