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.
“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,” said Shawn Reilly, who works for the organization.
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 his father, libertarian icon Ron Paul.
But they’re also unhappy with McConnell’s fiscal cliff deal—and some conservatives are unhappy with his whole career.
“Well, you know, Senator McConnell has had 30 years to show his conservative stripes and here in Kentucky we’re just tired of hearing the lip service,” said John Kemper, spokesman for the new United Kentucky Tea Party. He’s one of those unhappy conservatives.
Kemper has run for two offices before, Central Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District and for state Auditor. In 2011, Kemper beat a sitting state representative to become the GOP nominee for auditor, but lost the general election.
Kemper said he may challenge McConnell and if not him, someone else surely will.
“That’s what we’re working towards, everyday,” he said.
On the Democratic side, rumors are swirling that actress Ashley Judd, a Kentucky native, will enter the race. But Judd isn’t currently a Kentucky resident.
And some Democrats worry that her environmental activism—specifically, her outspoken stance against mountaintop removal coal mining—will hurt her in a general election match-up.
But so far, all the protests by Progress Kentucky and angry letters by Tea Party groups are just noise. Come Election Day 2014, a new six-year term for McConnell will be a certitude without one key element: a serious challenger.
“It would not be surprising for there to be protests, criticism and press releases daily between now and the election in 2014,” said Jasmine Farrier, a political science professor at the University of Louisville.
“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: Indiana. Last year, Tea Party favorite and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock beat longtime U.S. Senator Dick Lugar in the primary. Murdouck then lost the general election to a Democrat.
Second: Missouri. In the same election, U.S. Rep.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 said 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 said. “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 Mourdock had. So again this bodes well for Sen. 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 Kentuckians absolutely committed to re-electing McConnell in a recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll. And with low numbers like that, McConnell appears to remain vulnerable.