A secret recording of Republican Senator Mitch McConnell telling a summit of wealthy conservatives that he plans to block many populist measures sent Democrats in a fury this week.
In a leaked audiotape released Wednesday by The Nation, McConnell vowed to block a raise to the minimum wage, tackling student loan debt, and extending unemployment benefits if he becomes majority leader.
“We’re not going to be debating all of these gosh darn proposals,” McConnell said at a June meeting organized by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, according to the audiotape.
Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes is hoping that the leaked tape, much like the infamous “47 percent” tape that torpedoed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s bid, shows McConnell cares more about affluent Americans than average, middle-class Kentuckians.
Political observers tell WFPL, however, there is little to be surprised about in the senator’s comments to the Koch audience.
“I don’t think there is—for the most part with maybe one exception—a gotcha moment in here,” said longtime political journalist Ferrell Wellman, a former host of KET’s Comment on Kentucky.
“McConnell is not telling people in Kentucky one thing and telling wealthy backers something else. It’s stands he has taken nationally for some time, so I don’t think in terms of those pending issues there’s any hypocrisy there.”
McConnell’s re-election has rested in large part on opposing those Democratic ideas, and using a promotion to power as a way to do it.
For supporters of economic measures such as raising worker’s hourly pay to $10.10, however, this recording is fodder for that base. And it serves as a reminder for Democratic voters about what is at stake this fall.
“They shouldn’t be surprised so much as they should be extremely concerned with the comments that he makes to his well-heeled supporters like the Koch brothers,” said Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky AFL-CIO.
“It’ll help open people’s eyes up to who exactly Mitch McConnell is serving in the Senate, and it’s not the average person in Kentucky who works for a living. It’s his millionaire and billionaire buddies that supply his with his campaign finance money.”
A Bluegrass Poll conducted in February showed 61 percent of Kentuckians favored a minimum wage hike.
Grimes has made that issue, along with tackling student loan debt and extending unemployment benefits, a centerpiece of her campaign.
The audio also provides motivation for GOP voters as McConnell provided a window into what a GOP-controlled Senate agenda would look like after the fall election.
In the taped June meeting, McConnell outlined how Republicans would use the budget process to roll back the Obama administration’s accomplishments and block the president’s priorities.
Republican strategist Scott Jennings, who runs a pro-McConnell super PAC, said that type of candor motivates Kentucky conservatives to come out to polls too.
“This is a dog-bites-man deal that I am sure won’t increase McConnell’s popularity among the interns over at MSNBC but certainly won’t hurt him in Kentucky,” he said. “Here’s a newsflash for you—Kentuckians want someone to hold Barack Obama accountable for enacting policies that hurt our state. It sounds like Mitch McConnell is prepared to do just that.”
Jennings is familiar with how devastating a recording like the “47 percent” tape can be for a candidate. Two years ago, he served as Romney’s campaign chairman in Ohio. Today, he sees little similarity between the leaked recordings.
“The beauty of being Mitch McConnell–or any other Republican running for federal office in Kentucky–is that you can give the same speech to every audience, be they donors, phone bankers, or reporters,” Jennings said. “We can be authentically conservative no matter the audience because Kentucky is a right-of-center state; our values match the state’s values.”
It is also noteworthy that Romney won Kentucky by 60 percent even after the “47 percent” tape surfaced.
If there is a “potential land mine” for McConnell’s speech at the Koch brother’s retreat, according to Wellman, it could be the comment about the senator’s worst day in politics.
McConnell can be heard telling the audience that day was when the McCain-Feingold Act, which limits campaign contributions, was signed into law.
“If that is framed in such a way that McConnell is more upset about that than anything else that has occurred in his 30 year tenure in the Senate, that could be damaging,” Wellman said. “Depending on how the Democrats and the Grimes campaign frame that, that might help sway some of those undecided voters. Everything else he said reinforces why people who are opposed to McConnell don’t like the senator and reinforces his support among others.”
Coincidentally, Romney will be headed to Kentucky in early October for a McConnell fundraiser hosted by coal magnate Joe Craft.