Speculation among Democrats over who could unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell and how they could do so has been rampant since...well, since he last won re-election in 2008. Now another primary season is upon us, and it's not just Democrats who want to defeat McConnell.
Mitch McConnell is a wanted man.
For months, the Democratic Super PAC Progress Kentucky has made McConnell’s defeat its sole priority. They’ve held multiple protests—like this political Christmas caroling—against McConnell at his home and offices in Louisville, Lexington and London, Ky.
Shawn Reilly works for the organization.
“We think that people from you know both the far left and far right can agree that as a career politician, Mitch McConnell’s corruption is way over the top and we got to get a new senator and get him out of there,” he says.
But it’s not only Democrats who want McConnell out of the Senate.
More than a dozen Tea Party groups recently signed a letter saying McConnell cannot co-opt their movement for his re-election purposes.
That complaint is mainly because of who McConnell hired to run this campaign – Jesse Benton, who also worked for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and libertarian icon Ron Paul.
But they’re also unhappy with McConnell’s fiscal cliff deal, and some conservatives are unhappy with his whole career. One of those unhappy conservatives is John Kemper, spokesman for the new United Kentucky Tea Party.
"Well you know, Sen. McConnell has had 30 years to show his conservative stripes and here in Kentucky we’re just tired of hearing the lip service,” he says.
Kemper has run for two offices before, Central Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District and for state Auditor. Kemper beat a sitting state representative to become the GOP nominee for auditor, but lost the general election. Kemper says he might challenge McConnell and if not him, someone else surely will.
“That’s what we’re working towards, everyday,” Kemper says.
On the Democratic side, rumors are swirling that actress Ashley Judd will enter the race. But Judd isn’t currently a resident of Kentucky and some Democrats worry her environmental activism will hurt her in a general election matchup.
But so far, all the protests by Progress Kentucky and angry letters by Tea Party groups are just noise.
“It would not be surprising for there to be protests, criticism and press releases daily between now and the election in 2014," says University of Louisville political science professor Jasmine Ferrier. "But that does not mean there is an actual contender who is threatening the senator’s seat either from the Republican side or from the Democratic side.”
McConnell opponents like to point to two neighboring states as potential examples of how the senator’s long career could end.
First is Indiana, where Tea Party favorite and state Treasurer Richard Murdouck beat longtime U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar in a primary. Murdouck then lost the general election to a Democrat.
Second is Missouri, where Congressman Todd Akin, also a tea party favorite, won a crowded primary to get a U.S. Senate nomination. He too lost to a Democrat in the general election.
But Farrier says neither scenario is likely to play out in Kentucky.
“I don’t see a scenario here next year that would look like either of these," she says. "I don’t see several formable candidates going against each other in a primary. I don’t see a statewide Republican or a statewide Democrat that has the name recognition that Murdouck had. So again this bodes well for Senator McConnell at this point."
In the end, McConnell’s campaign says he is working with multiple tea party groups and represents all of his constituents in the Senate. But poll results have been bad for the senator, with only 17 percent of Kentuckains absolutely committed to re-electing McConnell in a recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll. And with low numbers like that, a target will likely remain on Mitch McConnell’s back.