Tampa, Fla. — Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky can’t have had a very pleasant time over the past week, with Todd Akin apparently throwing away a winnable seat in Missouri, but he is still hopeful about taking control of the Senate.
“At this point, the less said the better,” McConnell tells National Review Online, when asked about events in the Show Me State. “Hopefully, that will revert to a winnable situation.”
McConnell, the Senate GOP leader since 2007, has his eye on a handful of other races, including some contests in blue states, as he evaluates the electoral landscape. In contrast to 2010, he says, this year Republicans haven’t made big mistakes in their primaries. He cites Nevada as an example. Maybe Harry Reid wasn’t going to lose to anyone in 2010, he observes, but he “sure wasn’t going to lose to Sharron Angle.” This time, outside of Akin, “We haven’t nominated a single unelectable candidate,” he says.
To win the four seats necessary to get to 51 seats, McConnell believes that some combination of these states’ Senate races will have to go red: North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida, and Ohio. And though they aren’t getting much attention, he says the Republican contenders in Hawaii and Connecticut may be competitive.
From George Allen in Virginia to Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, a slate of veteran, savvy conservatives on the ballot will benefit Republicans, McConnell says. Rick Berg of North Dakota and Deb Fischer of Nebraska are also on his radar as sharp but less well-known candidates who are poised to win. “Linda Lingle in Hawaii, she has a real shot,” McConnell says. “She is a uniquely gifted political figure. She’s kind of like Scott Brown, who is the Bryce Harper, or maybe even Mike Trout, of American politics — a natural.”
The economy, McConnell says, remains the critical issue in those states, and though entitlements have come to the fore in the past month, he is not worried about having that debate. Mitt Romney’s pick of Representative Paul Ryan for the vice-presidential spot, he contends, has bolstered the GOP argument.
“If you want to have a debate about Medicare, bring it on,” McConnell says. “They are the only people who have voted to cut Medicare, so we will talk about what [Democrats] have done to Medicare today, not how Medicare has to change in the future in order to be saved. We’ll talk about what they did, now, and I think we can fight that to a draw, maybe even win that fight.”
“In fact, I believe we already have fought it to a draw,” McConnell says. “Then we can shift the election back to the economy, and how Romney has spent his lifetime fixing things.”
Should Republicans win the Senate majority, McConnell says, expectations, especially on the right, should take history into account. “We have never had more than 55 Republicans for the past 100 years,” he says. “We have never had the kind of hammerlock on government that [Democrats] had during the New Deal, during the Great Society, and from 2009 to 2010.”
“Now, it’d be wonderful to some day have the amount of control over the government that they’ve had on numerous occasions,” McConnell chuckles. “But having said that, there are things that you can do with a simple majority.” He lists passing a budget and axing the health-care law’s individual mandate through budget reconciliation as two immediate legislative items that a Republican majority could achieve early next year.
“If I’m the majority leader instead of Harry Reid, repealing Obamacare is job one,” McConnell says. “Through the budget process, with a willing chief executive, there are things that we can do. It would be nice to have a greater amount of support in the Senate, but I still think we can move the country in a different direction, even with the narrowest of majorities.”
And procedurally, McConnell sees himself as the anti-Reid. If the Kentuckian won the majority, he would not wait years to pass a budget, as Reid has done. “The way he is running the Senate is a disgrace,” McConnell says of his counterpart across the aisle. “The law requires you to pass a budget — not when you choose to, but every year. And this year, we won’t pass a single appropriation bill, which is the basic work of government, or a defense-authorization act for the first time in half a century.”