It's a scene that plays out in conference rooms around the country, campaign staffers privately concocting a strategy on how to take down their opponent. But in Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's case, the conversation became public.
An audio recording of a meeting between McConnell, R-Ky., and top advisers, obtained by liberal magazine Mother Jones, depicts just how dirty American politics can get.
In the tapes, McConnell and his staff address how to attack top Democratic contenders in February, including Ashley Judd and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. The dirt on Judd, who chose against a Senate run last month, was long-ranging, covering everything from her San Francisco-based area code, to her ties to the Obama administration and to her mental health.
"She's clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced," a McConnell aide says during the recorded meeting. "She's suffered some suicidal tendencies. She was hospitalized for 42 days when she had a mental breakdown in the 90s."
The tape also show the team deciding that Grimes, who tallied the most Democratic votes in Kentucky during the 2012 election, will be a tougher nut to crack.
"The best hit we have on her is her blatantly endorsing the 2008 Democratic national platform," a campaign strategist says on the tape.
Despite the leak, McConnell's team is not backing down. McConnell's campaign manager says the minority leader is asking the FBI and U.S. Attorney in Louisville to solve the mystery of how Mother Jones obtained the audio.
"Senator McConnell's campaign is working with the FBI and has notified the local U.S. Attorney in Louisville, per FBI request, about these recordings," McConnell's campaign manager Jesse Benton said in a released statement. "Obviously a recording device of some kind was placed in Sen. McConnell's campaign office without consent. By whom and how that was accomplished will presumably be the subject of a criminal investigation."
McConnell's campaign will be closely watched heading into the 2014 midterm elections, as Democrats and conservative Republicans looking to unseat the GOP giant. Benton said breaking the rules is no way to play the game.
"We've always said the Left would stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell, but Watergate-style tactics to bug campaign headquarters are above and beyond," Benton said in his statement.