Kentucky Republicans Beef Up Campaign Army for U.S. Senate Race
Senator Mitch McConnell's next election is a year and a half away, yet he doesn't have a serious opponent. But this hasn't stopped him from amassing significant money and personnel for his re-election. Each week, the effort to re-elect McConnell adds new field directors, political staff and fundraisers.
They have the same goal, but they don't have the same boss. Some of the staffers work for McConnell's campaign. Others for the Republican Party of Kentucky. And others work for SuperPACs.
Scott Jennings is in that last category. He's a longtime political operative who has worked on two presidential campaigns and for McConnell in the past. This year, he's working with the newly formed Kentuckians for Strong Leadership and the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, which has just begun running ads supporting conservative ideas.
Jennings controls those organizations from an East Louisville office, which he shares with the PR firm he founded this year.
Jennings says interest in the race among conservatives has picked up because supporters respect the role McConnell has played in blocking President Barack Obama's agenda.
"And I think that's why you're seeing such an early formation of a political apparatus designed to re-elect him, because he's done a good job and he's done right by the state of Kentucky, and that's why you have some of these folks doing what they're doing," Jennings says.
In the post-Citizens United world, people like Jennings are the reinforcements for traditional campaigns. They can't directly coordinate with candidates, but they have the knowledge and money to stay on point and to rally supporters.
McConnell's interaction with the state party is another story. To say the senator is orchestrating the Republican Party of Kentucky's ground game is an understatement. The party headquarters is named after him, and chairman Steve Robertson says the RPK's campaign for McConnell's re-election began months ago.
"I'm really blessed that Senator Mitch McConnell has recognized the critical importance of these activities and he's made a very substantial commitment to the state Republican Party to make sure we can raise the money to help execute this plan," Robertson says.
But the goal for Robertson isn't just McConnell's re-election—it's Republican domination.
"We are operating under the assumption that we're going to have a U.S. Senate race in 2014. But we're also operating under the assumption that we're going to have a program to try and grow our State Senate majority," he says.
"We're going to have a very aggressive program to try and seal the deal on the Kentucky state House of Representatives and create the first ever Republican majority in nearly a century."
On the Democratic side, the scene is different—a lot quieter. SuperPACs, fundraisers and candidates are practically nonexistent.
Jonathan Miller, former state treasurer and past Kentucky Democratic Party chairman, says the party is stuck looking for the right candidate, and he resents claims that Democrats are lagging behind the GOP.
"I think it's really unfair to say that because I think Democrats right now are urgently trying to find a candidate," Miller says. "They understand we are not able to go through the process of building the infrastructure and raising the money until we have identified someone."
Many Democrats have chosen not to run. And Miller says once a candidate—any candidate—is in place, Democrats can build their own machine to battle McConnell's.
"Until we have a candidate, you're not going be seeing the same sort of efforts from Washington to help supplement what's going on back here," Miller says.
But in politics, time equals money.
While McConnell, the state Republican party and various SuperPACS gain supporters, staff and dollars, the Democrats are still waiting for a name they can put on the ballot.