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Previous story McConnell quietly courts Senate primary candidates 'who can win' regardless of Trump ties Next story

STORY BY MANU RAJU AND ALEX ROGERS, CNN

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Published on March 15, 2021 2:07 AM

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McConnell quietly courts Senate primary candidates 'who can win' regardless of Trump ties
(CNN)Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is quietly maneuvering to field a slate of GOP Senate candidates in critical battleground states, attempting to avoid a repeat of election cycles a decade ago when candidates emerged from primaries only to implode and deny his party the chance to take back the majority.

This time around, the wily Kentucky Republican has a high-spending super PAC and he's prepared to use it. With 20 GOP seats to defend -- including five open seats where Republican senators are retiring -- compared with 14 seats that Democrats have to defend, McConnell is making clear he's not taking any chances. And he's signaling he has little regard as to whether GOP prospects are loyal to former President Donald Trump, who himself is beginning to take an active role in Senate GOP primaries. "What I'm looking for is somebody who can win in November," McConnell told CNN. "I don't care who they like or don't like. Can they win in November? So it's not an ideological thing. It's not a 'who do you think is going to be the nominee in '24' thing. It's can you win in November?" And asked if his allied super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, will drop big bucks in primaries to help his preferred candidates, McConnell said bluntly: "Only if necessary." Republicans say it might be necessary. With a growing number of messy primaries emerging, and Trump eager to prop up candidates who fit his brand of politics, top Republicans are keenly aware that intra-party wars could produce weak general election candidates and undercut their efforts to take back the Senate majority, something that occurred in the 2010 and 2012 elections.