McConnell Could Face Two-Pronged Attack in 2014 Senate Bid

Conservative Republicans and Democrats gear up for 2014 Senate race.

Sen. Mitch McConnell answers reporters' questions during his weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol, May 27, 2011.
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Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is fresh off a victory forestalling the fiscal cliff. But he could face a strong challenge from within his own party in 2014 as well as from Democrats seeking to turn the seat blue.

"He's got a long record you can mine, but he built the modern Republican party in Kentucky, and he's an exceptional candidate," says Dan Logsdon, chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party. "He doesn't light up a room when he walks in, but in the past, he has always run the best campaign and had the most money."

Attacks don't go unanswered, McConnell's ground game is unmatched and every decision is carefully measured by polling data and focus groups, strategists in the state say.

"I've been running against McConnell for decades," says Dale Emmons, a Democratic strategist who's led multiple campaign efforts to unseat the GOP heavyweight. "I am his arch nemesis and unfortunately for me, he's been winning all these years."

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That's why the party is looking now for the right candidate.

Democratic party chair Logsdon says the best bet would be a woman who could excite the base and take some political punches.

"Given the recent history of the Republican party and Sen. McConnell's support of Mourdock and Akin this year, a woman candidate would be a good choice," Logsdon says.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, 34, was the top Democratic vote getter in her last election, bringing a young influx of energy into the party.

But a Public Policy Polling Survey showed she lagged far behind McConnell.

One of the most promising candidates in the poll was Hollywood actress and Kentucky Wildcats alumna Ashley Judd who came within four points of McConnell.

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"It certainly would nationalize the race to a great extent, and she has expressed interest," Logsdon says. "Kentucky is very proud of her and her accomplishments. She's popular"

One of Judd's greatest assets is that she might have the star power needed to keep pace with McConnell's fundraising prowess.

In his 2008 election, McConnell spent $21 million to defeat his opponent.

There is only one problem, she lives in Tennessee.

"She is a Democrat, a good person and she could be a good candidate," Emmons says. "But she's got to come home. It would be too convenient of an attack for McConnell."

Registered Kentucky Democrats outnumber Republicans 1.7 million to 1.2 million, Democrats in the state are more moderate and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the state in November by 23 points.

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"We are pragmatic Democrats. We want answers and solutions no matter what party they come from," Emmons says. "We need a moderate."

Meanwhile, McConnell could face an opponent on his conservative flank. The conservative faction of his party blames him for cutting a bad fiscal cliff deal with the White House that raised taxes on households making more than $450,000 a year.

ForAmerica, a conservative nonprofit, released an online attack ad against McConnell this week slamming him for compromising with the White House.

"Sen. McConnell often talks a tough game and sells himself as a conservative, but his actions speak louder than his words," says Brent Bozell, the chairman of ForAmerica. "His role as President Obama's bag man in the latest fiscal cliff disaster clearly demonstrates that Sen. McConnell is more interested in the art of the bad deal rather than standing up and fighting."

And if history is any indication, the conservative wing of the Kentucky GOP is gaining momentum.

In 2010, Sen. Rand Paul's libertarian message resonated enough with voters to secure his victory against McConnell's establishment pick in the U.S. Senate race.

McConnell knows the vulnerabilities. He hired Ron Paul presidential campaign spokesman and Rand Paul's campaign manager Jesse Benton to run his 2014 campaign in an effort to bring together moderate and conservative Republicans to support McConnell.