A routine media stakeout in the Ohio Clock Corridor on the second floor of the Capitol took on a decidedly campaign feel as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell returned to D.C. after a primary victory back home.
The Kentucky Republican said Wednesday that after the last few elections Republicans are growing unified as they head into November following a series of primary victories for the establishment Tuesday night.
"Shortly after the polls closed last night I was endorsed by the Madison Project, the Senate Conservatives Fund, Freedom Works and Erick Erickson down at Red State," said McConnell, who easily defeated Matt Bevin to once again be Kentucky's GOP nominee for Senate.
The senior senator from Kentucky, who has served in the chamber since 1985, had suffered some rough treatment at the hands of the tea party wing of the party, and those groups in particular, who made no bones about wanting to see McConnell defeated by one of their own more conservative candidates.
In this contest, McConnell proved to be the woodchipper in the final scene of Fargo, just as former chief of staff Billy Piper told Roll Call in 2012 . But asked if he would accept support of the tea party groups, McConnell said, "I am happy to have them on board."
Asked about his support in coal country, and the chances that Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes might be able to make inroads on energy, McConnell pointed to primary night results.
"We took a look at the returns yesterday, and there were 21 counties in which I got a bigger percentage of my primary vote than she got of hers," McConnell said. "Now, bear in mind, she had I think two opponents who didn't raise enough money to even file an FEC report. What did those counties have in common? Almost every one of them was a coal county."
"The obvious conclusion to draw is that there's a lot of resistance to Democrats in my state over the coal issue, and the only way registered Democrats in a number of those counties where there are way more Democrats than there are Republicans could express themselves was to not vote for her in their primary," McConnell said. "The coal issue is a ... really significant issue in our state. We have a depression in eastern Kentucky, a depression. We've lost 7,000 coal mining jobs in the last five years."
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told CQ Roll Call that Republicans would use legislative tools available to block or overturn Obama administration coal regulations, setting up the potential for McConnell to keep bashing Democrats on energy policy before November.
"The president is going way beyond what mainstream America wants. He's way off on his own on this, and I think there is bipartisan opposition to what the president is proposing," Barrasso said. "We will file, using the Congressional Review Act, disapproval of what the president continues to try to do, but it really does show how out-of-touch the president is with regard to cost of energy for American families."
McConnell predicted the unity bodes well for Republican chances to pick up the six seats they need to take over the majority in the Senate.
"So I think what you see all across the country this year is two things," he continued. "No. 1, we want to nominate candidates who can actually win in November. And No. 2, everybody wants to win. And even if we have some back and forth during the primaries, I think what you are going to see is a very unified right-of-center block with highly credible candidates going into the November election all across America."
Republicans have had their chances in previous election cycles to take over the majority, but division between the tea party and establishment Republicans always seemed to get in the way. Many of the tea party candidates that did win primaries were easily defeated by more mainstream Democrats.
"I think the goal here is to win in November and to do that you have to have nominees who can appeal to a broader audience in most states," McConnell said. "So the fact that we are having primaries itself is not troubling, provided the ultimate candidate can actually win. And I think the difference this time is that we are in the process of nominating, I hope and I believe, in everyone of these contested primaries, the most electable nominee, regardless of who may have supported whom during the primary process."