Feb. 12, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Kentucky Race May Roil GOP

With polling in Kentucky suddenly showing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) in a dead heat with Democratic upstart Bruce Lunsford, Senate Republicans are privately starting to worry their leader could be knocked off and have begun contemplating what their leadership might look like in his absence.

McConnell still retains a significant cash advantage over Lunsford, and Kentucky is a conservative, Republican-leaning state. But a Mason-Dixon Polling and Research survey conducted late last month showed McConnell with 45 percent and Lunsford with 44 percent, while a SurveyUSA poll taken at the same time showed the margin at 49 percent to 46 percent.

Those numbers have so encouraged Democrats that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this week went up with its first TV ad against McConnell — something that even DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) acknowledged was unthinkable a few weeks ago.

Schumer said Wednesday that Kentucky and Georgia — where GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss is in an unexpectedly tough race — are now on his radar as potential pickups given recent polling.

“They’re both tied. Our private polling mirrors the public polling that these are even-steven races. We believe we can win in both of those states. We’re devoting resources to them. In fact, you can go on our Web site. Our first Kentucky ad starts today,” Schumer said.

And with voters nationwide increasingly unhappy with incumbents, particularly of the GOP variety, Republicans for the first time are quietly grappling with the possibility that they could face a 60-vote Democratic majority in the Senate and a potential leadership shake-up in November.

Asked whether Republicans have internally entertained the possibility, a top Republican strategist said: “They are just starting to, just a little bit. You need to prepare a contingency plan for ‘just in case’ scenarios like this one.”

A McConnell defeat, Republicans say, would be salt in the wound for a party staged to suffer significant losses in the House and Senate, and perhaps the White House.

“That would be the worst thing for any of us,” one GOP Senate aide said. “If McConnell loses, it would be bad for the caucus, it would be bad for the leadership team. Regardless if you love him or hate him, he has kept the caucus unified and has done it without beating people up.”

A Republican leadership aide agreed, saying that while he has often differed with the conservative wing of his party, McConnell has been effective in keeping an often disparate Conference together. “There would be a tremendous void in the ability to corral the Conference. There’s no one else out there, like a [former Sen.] Don Nickles who has that ability,” the aide said.

The leadership aide also argued that a McConnell loss would almost certainly be part of a much larger turnover in the Senate, arguing that in addition to losing their leader, Republicans would also be largely powerless to stop legislation in the Senate. “You’re well north of 60 [votes] if McConnell loses,” this source said.

“If McConnell loses, the Republicans would need to create stability immediately,” one GOP Senate strategist said. “They will need to coronate a new leader quickly in order to show strength because it’s going to be a party in disarray.”

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