Kentucky's senior Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is battling a tea party primary opponent, is emphasizing the influence he wields as a Washington insider – popular sentiment against Congress notwithstanding, The Wall Street Journal
While anti-insider sentiment is strong — just 34 percent of Kentucky voters say incumbent politicians deserve re-election — and 60 percent disapprove of how McConnell has handled his job, 67 percent of the electorate say they'd be more likely to support a candidate who delivers federal largesse to the state.
McConnell is trying to attune to those sentiments. He's not overemphasizing the big money "earmarks" projects he has brought home to Kentucky in the form of dams and funds for universities. Instead, he's playing up the countless subtle ways his congressional clout has benefited residents.
How, for instance, he assisted workers
exposed to dangers at the Paducah uranium-enrichment plant, pressured the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to raise the level of a local lake, and propelled a pilot program authorizing Kentucky farmers to grow hemp – an industrial alternative to threatened tobacco.
Supporters point out that McConnell's Washington power enabled him to appoint the farm-bill negotiators involved in that hemp decision, insulated Kentucky tobacco farmers from federal budget cuts, and fought off proposed Obama administration policies that would hamper the local coal industry, the Journal reported.
Turning anti-incumbent sentiment on its head, McConnell is asking voters for support because he's a powerful incumbent.
McConnell, who says he's "a solid conservative," has the backing of the state's Republican establishment, including lawmakers and Kentucky's junior Sen. Rand Paul, as he faces his United Kentucky Tea Party opponent, businessman Matt Bevin.
Polls show McConnell leading Bevin 55 to 29 percent. How he will do against the likely Democratic candidate, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, is less clear, with some surveys showing them running neck and neck.
With Grimes charging him with "extreme partisanship," and Bevin supporters saying he's too quick to cut bipartisan deals, McConnell is working to show voters that even though he's been in Washington since 1984, he's gotten the balance just right.
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