Kentucky Republicans Beef Up Campaign Army for U.S. Senate Race; Democrats on Standby

May 7, 2013

Senator Mitch McConnell's next election is a year and a half away…and he doesn't have a serious opponent. But this hasn't stopped him from amassing significant money and personnel for his re-election. 

Every week, new field directors, political staff and fundraisers join the effort to re-elect McConnell. But while they have the same goal, 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 said conservative interest in the race has picked up now 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," he said.

In the post-Citizens United world, people like Jennings are the backup, the reinforcements for traditional campaigns. They can't directly coordinate with candidates, but they have the knowledge and money to stay on point and 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 said the RPK's re-election campaign 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 said.

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," he said. "But we're also operating under the assumption that we're going to have a program to try and grow our State Senate majority. 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. It's a lot quieter. SuperPACs, fundraisers and candidates are all practically nonexistent.

Former State Treasurer and Kentucky Democratic Party chairman Jonathan Miller 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 said. "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 opted not to run. And Miller says once a candidate...any 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," he said.

But in politics, time equals money. And while McConnell, the state party and various SuperPACS gain supporters, staff and dollars, the Democrats are still waiting for a name they can put on the ballot.