Analysis: Mitch McConnell Could Lose Even If He Wins

Oct 21, 2020

Fans of irony should take note of the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky.

The contest between six-term incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger, former Marine pilot Amy McGrath, could well produce the greatest election irony in many a year.

McConnell, the powerful Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, could win the battle on Nov. 3 but lose the war.

The battle being his bid for re-election to a seventh six-year term in the Senate; the war being control of said Senate, which could well switch from a Republican to a Democratic majority.

And that would be the end of line for the powerful majority leader from Kentucky.

"If that happens, the reduction in stature would be like night and day,'' said David Niven, a professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. "He could be reduced to the newly created post of irrelevant minority leader. Instead of being a true voice in American politics, he won't have a voice."

Somehow, I don't think that McConnell, for whom political power is everything, would have much fun being demoted to the minority party in the U.S. Senate. His power over legislation and legislators could well slip into the hands of Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and the Democrats.

Mitch McConnell isn't interested in pyrrhic victories. He wants it all.

But there is much more in the way of McConnell staying in power than Amy McGrath, as formidable as she may be.

Right now, the U.S. Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who vote with the Democrats to organize the Senate.

It wouldn't take a lot to flip the Senate to Democratic control.

Nate Silver, the numbers guru whose 538 tracks polling, had the Democratic chances of winning control of the Senate at 63% last week. On Monday, Silver dialed that number up to 73%.

Winning three or four seats now held by Republicans would do the trick.

If Joe Biden is elected president, it would only take three, because then-Vice President Kamala Harris would be the President of the Senate and cast tie-breaking votes in a Senate that is split 50-50.

If Donald Trump is re-elected – and the odds are getting long on that happening – the Democrats would need to pick up four seats currently in GOP hands, giving the Democrats a 51-49 advantage.

Either scenario would be likely to make Mitch McConnell a very grumpy ex-Majority Leader.

There are plenty of opportunities out there for Democratic Senate candidates around the country.

Republican incumbent Martha McSally of Arizona is trailing former astronaut Mark Kelly in the polls and has all but denied the existence of Donald J. Trump. She is running away from the president as fast as she can.

Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado is in trouble, trailing former governor John Hickenlooper in polling.

A host of Republican senators are in danger of being defeated: Susan Collins of Maine; Thom Tillis of North Carolina; Joni Ernst of Iowa; Steve Daines of Montana; and, yes, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. In Georgia, there's a real possibility of the Republicans losing both Senate seats – one in a special election that could produce a run-off in December. And there are more that are competitive.

You had better believe this keeps Mitch McConnell up at night.

Back home in Kentucky, McConnell has his hands full with McGrath; and he has a lead in recent polls that ranges from seven to 15 points. My thinking is that it is closer to seven than 15.

McGrath has raised more money than McConnell - $47 million compared to about $36.7 million. That seems surprising in and of itself, but maybe not – Democrats all over the country are pouring money into the Kentucky Senate campaign; they see McConnell as a devil only slightly less evil than Trump himself.

Sunday, one of the Commonwealth's top newspapers, the Lexington Herald Leader, endorsed McGrath and left no doubt about how they viewed McConnell.

"His only passion is for the pursuit of power – his own and that of the Republican Party,'' the Herald Leader said.

While his TV ad campaign has been trying to paint McGrath as a leftist radical, which is something of a stretch, McConnell has been making the case that his power in Washington pays off for Kentucky.

Washington, McConnell said in an interview with Michael Monks on WVXU's Cincinnati Edition, is "a place largely populated by lobbyists and influence peddlers."

McConnell said he is in a position of power and can protect Kentucky's interests.

"I'm the only one of the four in leadership positions in Congress who isn't from New York or California,'' McConnell said.

He could be again, in the new Congress that meets in January.

But there's a real chance that he is about get to get knocked down a notch or two.

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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