McConnell showed an early taste for politics. He was student body president in high school and in college, and president of his law school class. After law school, he worked for GOP Sen. Marlow W. Cook of Kentucky, then served as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Ford administration. He served two terms as the chief executive of Jefferson County, now Louisville Metro, before waging his winning 1984 Senate race. His campaign against two-term Democratic Sen. Walter D. Huddleston struggled until McConnell demonstrated the incumbent had limited influence and was often absent from committee meetings; McConnell aired television ads showing bloodhounds sniffing around Washington in search of Huddleston. McConnell won by four-tenths of a percentage point.
In 1990, McConnell advertised the fact that he was present and voted 99 percent of the time during his first term. He won with 52 percent of the vote. His margin of victory has grown in each of his subsequent races.
In 2008, McConnell faced a tough opponent in wealthy Democratic businessman Bruce Lunsford amid a hostile national political climate for the GOP. Lunsford highlighted McConnell's ties to Bush and said the minority leader deserved blame for the country's economic woes; he spent millions of his personal fortune on attack ads that helped pull him head-to-head in polls in the campaign's closing weeks. McConnell, however, played up his leadership status and Appropriations seat as assets in bringing home plenty of federal funds. He outspent Lunsford by a 2-to-1 margin, and captured 53 percent of the vote.
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