Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

McConnell’s Influence Still Strong in Kentucky

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Republicans in Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky are bracing for a loss in November’s gubernatorial election.

Privately, Kentucky Republicans concede that Williams has a serious likability problem. He's also not very popular with the GOP base. In the September poll conducted for the Louisville Courier-Journal by SurveyUSA, only 47 percent of self-identified conservatives said they would vote for Williams.

"Every time a Republican wins or loses in Kentucky, everybody wants to ascribe credit or blame to McConnell that's just not accurate in this case," said a Republican familiar with Kentucky politics. "David has problems that are unique to David: They have nothing to do with the party or the state."

Williams took a hit when it was revealed that, despite being a staunch opponent of expanding gambling in the state, he was a gambler. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that his divorce records showed he lost more than $36,000 gambling from 1999 to 2002.

The charge of hypocrisy was particularly detrimental to his image, Kentucky
strategists said.

The Williams campaign could not be reached for comment Monday.

"I think the day after the governor's race is going to be the same as the day before," said Jon Deuser, a former McConnell staffer and chief of staff to former Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.). "Mitch McConnell will still be the pre-eminent political figure in Kentucky."

While everyone seems to agree that McConnell won't lose any political capital in the state this November, he made some tweaks after Grayson's loss. Besides campaigning very hard for Paul and, by most accounts, working amicably with him in the Senate, McConnell has also increased outreach to tea party groups.

"He's sending staffers to tea party events on a regular basis," said David Adams, a Kentucky GOP strategist who served as Paul's 2010 primary campaign manager.

"McConnell does have a representative at most of the tea party meetings," said Hans Marsen, Kentucky state coordinator for Tea Party Patriots. "He's making an effort to make sure he's represented."

While Paul's victory over Grayson was indicative of larger national trends, in the end, this year's gubernatorial race stands alone, mostly disconnected from federal issues.

"Most times statewide races have their own energy and their own ebb and flow and that's certainly been the case here," Piper said.

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