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When Republican Senator Mitch McConnell goes back to Washington to represent Kentucky, he will face new challenges within his party.

When the new Congress convenes next year, Mitch McConnell will go from being the most powerful Republican on Capitol Hill to the most powerful Republican in Washington. Although the Senate minority he leads will be smaller, Kentucky political writer Al Cross says McConnell will still be its leader.

“There’s talk that because the Republicans lost so many seats that someone might challenge him for leader, but I’d be very surprised at that because the Republican’s loss of seats is attributed almost entirely to Bush,” he says. “I don’t think McConnell can be blamed for that.”

Cross says McConnell will need to focus the beginning of his fifth term on rebuilding the Republican Party and developing a relationship with the new Democratic president.

Cross also says last night’s election shows a political divide in the South and Appalachia.

All of the states in those regions except for North Carolina, Florida and Virginia favored Republican senate candidates and the GOP presidential ticket. Cross says the results illustrate a changing electorate in the southeastern U.S.

“The progressive side of the South – Virginia and North Carolina – the more educated side of the south, went for Obama,” says Cross. “And the less progressive, less educated states on the other side of the mountains and in the mountains did not go for him.”

Cross says it’s too early to speculate how this divide may influence future elections.