Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court was like an "adrenaline shot" for Republican candidates in a midterm election cycle that has been characterized by sluggishness among their base of voters.
But the six-term senator from Kentucky hinted the tough confirmation fight could also boost his own re-election chances in 2020. He called the confirmation of Kavanaugh, and other judges like him, "the single most important thing I've been involved in my career." His support of Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump amid fierce opposition from Democrats could stave off a well-funded primary challenger, unlike 2014 when he defeated Republican Matt Bevin. Bevin would be elected governor the next year.
"I'm not afraid of a primary," McConnell told reporters in his home state on Monday. "I think I've demonstrated against a pretty credible candidate I knew how to handle it."
McConnell formally announced his re-election campaign in August at the annual Fancy Farm picnic, tapping departing state Rep. Jonathan Shell to be his campaign chairman. As one of the country's most powerful Republican lawmakers, Democrats have always targeted McConnell for defeat.
Kentucky Democrats are already organizing for that effort, with state Democratic Party chairman Ben Self sending out a plea to supporters on Friday shortly after the Senate agreed to advance Kavanaugh's nomination.
"We can't wait until October 2020 to dump $4 million in ads against him and hope it works. We know that doesn't work. He already has his campaign operation up and running," Self wrote. "We have to start organizing to defeat him now."
It's unclear who from the Democrats might run for Senate in 2020. Most of the state's top Democrats appear to be eyeing a run for governor in 2019. Matt Jones, host of the popular Kentucky Sports Radio show in this basketball-crazed state, says he will decide by next summer if he will challenge McConnell. In an interview, Jones said he thinks there is more support for Kavanaugh in Kentucky than the nation but said it's too soon to tell if it will have a significant impact on an election that is more than two years away.
"Mitch McConnell's focus is never on Kentucky. It's always on the national political scene," Jones said. "And I think nothing that's happened recently changes that."
McConnell said being majority leader means "your approval rating takes a beating from time to time and that's a good recruitment tool for the other side."
"I'm sure they'll be able to get a credible candidate and I'll be able to deal with it," he said.