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Mitch McConnell Picks Top Races in Majority Quest

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said it won’t be easy for Republicans to take control of the Senate, predicting months of “shin-kicking” ahead of the elections.

In the 30-minute interview, McConnell had little venom for Democrats and, in fact, offered the opposing party praise.

“I’ll say this for our competition: They’ve done a good job on candidate recruitment, they’ve done a good job on fundraising,” he said. “You know, they’re certainly not going to roll over.”

He also noted GOP recruiting successes in Rep. Rick Berg in North Dakota, Rep. Denny Rehberg in Montana, former Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico and former Gov. Linda Lingle in Hawaii. He had particular praise for Lingle, who put the heavily Democratic state in play.

It’s one of two very competitive races being waged in states President Barack Obama is expected to carry by a wide margin. The other is the white-hot race between Sen. Scott Brown (R) and Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren (D) in Massachusetts.

McConnell cautioned not to overestimate the power of the top of the ticket in other, more competitive states.

“I’m not saying there’s no impact at all from the presidential race, but I’m not one of those who believes that the fate of the Senate is inexorably intertwined,” he said.

Still, his prospects of becoming Majority Leader next year are, at the least, tied somewhat to the success of Romney. A victory by the former Massachusetts governor means the GOP can secure the majority by netting just three seats, rather than four.

The Obama campaign’s wide network of field offices in battleground states such as Nevada and Virginia will no doubt benefit the Democratic Senate nominees in those states. Romney’s ability to match those efforts, and perhaps dangle coattails down-ticket could mean the difference between another two years in the Senate minority and control over the chamber for the first time since 2006.

Romney and McConnell met in Washington, D.C., last week, and the Senator said the two have established a “good working relationship.”

“We want to basically stay in coordination as best we can, because if we’re all fortunate enough to be given the responsibility of governing next year, we want to be ready to go.”

McConnell, now serving his 27th year in the Senate, has faced hurdles in his drive to be Majority Leader — and not all from Democrats.

Republican primaries continue to illustrate a divide among forces within the GOP. Groups such as the powerful anti-tax Club for Growth and people such as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin have weighed in on intraparty races in states such as Texas, which held its primary Tuesday, Indiana and Nebraska — all races Republicans are favored to win.

Money flowed into Indiana in an effort to defeat longtime Sen. Dick Lugar, whose primary loss to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock could force the national party to expend valuable resources to lock up the seat. In Texas, Lt. Gov. David
Dewhurst was forced into a runoff with former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite.

McConnell said Senators and others have every right to get involved in primaries, something the national party has carefully chosen not to do this cycle. But he has only one goal.

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