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McConnell Eyes the Prize as Grimes Hopes for Grand Upset (Updated)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 8:09 a.m., Nov. 4  | LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Standing in front of the Team Mitch bus in an airport hangar, former Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao proclaimed "I'm the proud wife of the next majority leader of the United States Senate."  

Three decades into his Senate career, Chao’s husband, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is poised on the verge of running the chamber, riding a wave of opposition to President Barack Obama.  

"We could have, for the second time in our history, the majority leader of the Senate setting the agenda for America and taking us in a new direction," he told supporters gathered in the hangar at Bowman Field just before boarding a small plane for a fly around of the commonwealth with Sen. Rand Paul.  

His backers certainly aren’t taking anything for granted as Kentucky’s airwaves remain flooded with ads, but the Republican leader’s smile is broad, the pollsters and pundits are predicting victory and he’s talking about how he would govern.  

RollCall-On-the-Road-Logo(150x150) "I’m certainly hopeful," McConnell told a group of reporters Sunday of the prospects of gaining the net of six seats needed to flip the chamber. "I think we need to set a new agenda and go in a different direction. A number of you work in Washington, you know the Senate doesn't do anything any more."  

“The American people have seen the do-nothing Senate for four years. I’d think they’d want to go in a different direction on Tuesday night," he said.  

McConnell envisions confronting the president on some issues — like the EPA — and working with him on others, like tax reform and free trade deals.  

McConnell had stopped to take questions from a small group of reporters Sunday after greeting supporters at the end of a veterans' parade in Madisonville in Western Kentucky, riding in the parade just ahead of Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, who was working the parade route.  

“The American people have seen the do-nothing Senate for four years. I’d think they’d want to go in a different direction on Tuesday night," said McConnell, who envisions confronting the president on some issues and working with him on others. "We could have, for the second time in our history, the majority leader of the Senate setting the agenda for America and taking us in a new direction," McConnell told supporters gathered in the hangar at Bowman Field just before boarding a small plane for a fly around of the commonwealth with Sen. Rand Paul.  

McConnell had stopped to take questions from a small group of reporters after greeting supporters at the end of a veterans' parade in Madisonville in Western Kentucky one day before, riding in the parade just ahead of Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, who was working the parade route.  

At times, people seemed more interested in the caravan of Corvettes that preceded them in the parade than the candidates themselves, who will both be flying around.  

Despite polling showing McConnell having a decent to sizable lead, the incumbent Kentucky secretary of state has been barnstorming the state, hopeful for what would be at this point a monumental upset.  

The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call has the Kentucky race in the Republican Favored column .  

"There are the folks that are going to carry this race home. They're excited about sending a message to the world that Washington just isn't working for us, and after 30 years, Mitch McConnell is out of time," Grimes told reporters on the trail Sunday. "He's met his match. He's going to be fired come Nov. 4."  

"The people of this state. They're going to have the final word, and the energy and momentum that we've seen on the ground, it's been unmatched. The ground game that we have, it's dynamic. It's unlike anything Kentucky has ever seen," Grimes told reporters after a rally with supporters at a hilltop sod farm in Elizabethtown after the parade.  

Asked why new polls seem to be trending in his favor both locally and elsewhere, McConnell pointed to President Barack Obama's unpopularity.  

"Well look, I think this election is largely a referendum on the president of the United States. Most people in my state and I hope around the country believe that we need to go in a different direction," McConnell said. "All I've said repeatedly is if you want to go in a different direction, there’s only one thing that can be accomplished in 2014, and that’s to change the Senate and make me the leader of a new majority."  

Mitch McConnell Senate Kentucky race

McConnell greets supporters Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

On the stump, McConnell has taken to highlighting the presence of reporters for media outlets based overseas, as he did Monday morning. Asked about the effect of the Senate race on the world stage by a reporter from the BBC, McConnell noted the trend.  

"I think a lot of foreign reporters have been coming down here, like yourself, wondering whether America is comfortable with America in decline," he said. "Hopefully, if the people of this country choose a new majority, it will encourage the president to stop the retreat, basically. That’s what we've seemed to have been doing over the last few years."  

He also indicated that a floor vote on tightening potential sanctions against Iran would be on his to-do list.  

"I think what we ought to do if we can't get an acceptable agreement with the Iranians is tighten the sanctions, and in fact we had a bill in the Senate to do that, which the current majority leader wouldn't allow a vote on," McConnell said. "Not to stop the talks, but to say at the end of the talks, if there’s no good outcome, then the Iranians would get tougher sanctions."  

Closer to home, McConnell once again pointed to the economic crisis out in Eastern Kentucky coal country as a priority, criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency's regulations limiting power plant emissions.  

"I think the first thing we ought to do is see whether there are areas of agreement that we can actually make some progress on. You know, divided government is not unusual in the United States. We've had it most of the time since World War II. Reagan never had the House. Clinton didn’t have the House or Senate for six of the eight years, and yet they did some significant things," McConnell said. "We're going to try to push back against this overregulation that's literally put my people out of work," he said. But, McConnell also knows the reality that Obama will still be in office.  

If things go his way Tuesday, perhaps McConnell could invite Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., here to the parade for the next round of deal-making. He does love Corvettes.  

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