Protests Aside, McConnell is Unthreatened Without ‘Formidable Challenger,’ Political Scientist Says

Nearly two years before he faces re-election in 2014, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has been under regular attack for his policy stances — from both conservative and progressive groups in Kentucky.

The most recent criticism is coming from McConnell’s right, as more than a dozen tea party groups have signed a letter protesting the Senate Republican leader’s stances. On the other side, a group called Progress Kentucky has protested the senator a handful of times already in 2013.

Jasmine Farrier, a political science professor at the University of Louisville, says it’s natural for different groups to rally against an incumbent before an election — but it may not mean much in terms of McConnell’s ability to win a sixth term.

“It would not be surprising for there to be protests, criticism and press releases daily between now and the election in 2014,” Farrier said. “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.”

Some longtime Republican incumbents like McConnell have been bedeviled in recent years by the tea party. Last year, Sen. Richard Lugar was defeated in a primary by tea party candidate Richard Mourdock, who lost to Democract Joe Donnelly in the general election. In Missouri,  a crowded primary field led to the nomination of tea party candidate Todd Akin, who also lost to the Democratic nominee.

Farrier says she doesn’t see McConnell going the way of Lugar. While tea party groups are ramping up the pressure on McConnell, Farrier says the anti-McConnell groups are just making noise unless a serious tea party candidate were to enter the field.

“If he does not have a formable challenger, with the type of money and national firepower that Bruce Lundsford … then he’s probably not going to be successfully challenged,” Farrier said, referring to the 2008 Democratic challenger.

Actress Ashley Judd, a Democrat, and John Kemper, a tea party member who previously ran for state auditor, are looking to enter the 2014 field, but neither has made their future intentions clear.  Democrat Ed Marksberry has filed to run for McConnell’s seat. 

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