“In Kentucky, you need two signatures and 500 bucks and you’re on the ballot,” said former Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R), who lost to Paul. “That’s all it takes.”
Crit Luallen, a former Kentucky state auditor and something of a senior stateswoman in Kentucky Democratic politics, explained that the campaign narrative against McConnell won’t be difficult.
“He’s lost touch with the people of Kentucky,” she said. “His real focus is on his national leadership role.” She said the Bluegrass State needs a Senator “not so caught up in the partisan rancor in Washington.”
The pushback, allies of the Senator said, would be showcasing McConnell’s longstanding ties and devotion to Kentucky.
Anti-McConnell third-party groups, which substantially outspent those in favor of him in 2008 — by about 5-to-1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — will likely be blunted in 2014. Steven Law, a former McConnell chief of staff and close ally of the Senator, now runs the juggernaut pro-GOP group American Crossroads.
The Democratic bench to take on McConnell is deeper than the tea party’s, but no one is making much noise about the race.
“I’m not sure anybody is going to run,” one Kentucky Democratic operative bemoaned, with only a touch of hyperbole. The source noted Democrats’ resounding successes on the local and state levels and routine defeats in federal elections.
Luallen, state Sen. Dennis Parrett, state Auditor Adam Edelen and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes are mentioned as potential contenders. Parrett is a conservative, anti-abortion-rights, pro-gun-rights farmer and businessman who knocked off a 15-year GOP incumbent in 2010. Edelen, 37, has the look of a rising political star, and Grimes, 33, is politically well-connected.
Edelen and Grimes both have the advantage of not being up for re-election until 2015. And both, Democrats note, would allow for a strong contrast between a fresh new voice for Kentucky and McConnell, who will be 72 in November 2014.
Kentucky Democratic strategist Jim Cauley described Edelen as “young and hungry.”
“But my fear for him is that he’s never faced the machine,” Cauley said. “If they’ve got any sense at all, they’ll make sure they’ll do a background book on him and find every little thing, because McConnell will chew him up and spit him out.”
In conversations about 2014, Kentucky political operatives repeatedly noted the potency of McConnell’s research operation and its almost spectral presence.
“He’s always put an extraordinary amount of time and effort to make sure you’ve got all the information available for a potential opponent,” said one Kentucky Republican close to the Senator. “Part of that is creating ongoing research files for people who might come after to you years — years — ahead of time.”
And the research is not just the normal looking through old newspaper articles and public records. It’s a veritable human intelligence operation that includes tapping sources on the ground and digging up “unsearchable stuff,” explained Republicans familiar with his campaigns.
McConnell’s motto is “if somebody flicks a pebble at you, you hurl a boulder back” — and he’s made good on it.