Kentucky Republican McConnell Survives Political Battle of His Career

Sen. Mitch McConnell withstands a tough challenge from businessman Bruce Lunsford.

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The highest-ranking Republican senator, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, survived the fight of his political life Tuesday when he prevailed despite a strong challenge from Democratic businessman Bruce Lunsford.

McConnell, Senate minority leader, amassed a fat war chest but watched as his double-digit lead in the race shrank in recent weeks. His rival tried to blame him for the country's economic turmoil and link him to the unpopular president.

McConnell then was threatened with an embarrassing loss in a Republican-leaning state, one that CNN projected John McCain had carried.

A GOP defeat would have been sweet revenge for Democrats. It was four years ago that Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota was targeted and sent packing. Former President Bill Clinton was among those who jumped on Lunsford's bandwagon, campaigning with him and urging McConnell's ouster in order to advance Democrats' hopes of a filibuster-proof majority of 60. The breakdown was a voting majority of 51 to 49 leading up to Election Day.

McConnell, first elected in 1984, staged campaign bus trips across the state and boasted of the hundreds of millions in federal dollars he'd brought home to Kentucky. Meantime, he warned voters that without a strong conservative leader, what he dubbed the Obama-Pelosi-Reid machine would "steamroll a host of new taxes and left-wing social policy across the Senate floor."

He campaigned side by side with his wife, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, whom Lunsford criticized for leaving her post as jobless numbers were rising.

Lunsford twice ran unsuccessfully for Kentucky governor. He had owned a healthcare company and now invests in start-up firms and owns thoroughbred racehorses.

The Democrat dipped into his own fortune to finance his race. McConnell had raised $17.7 million by the end of the September, to Lunsford's $7.7 million reported in a later filing in mid-October.

"The odds are against up," a Democratic insider said as voters went to the polls, suggesting prospects for payback were slim.