McConnell plots GOP midterm strategy amid Trump’s primary influence

But McConnell doesn’t see his clash with the former President emerging as much of an issue — at least not yet.

McConnell had a warning of sorts to Republican candidates running on Trump’s false claims.

“It’s important for candidates to remember we need to respect the results of our democratic process unless the court system demonstrates that some significant fraud occurred that would change the outcome,” McConnell said.

The delicate dance underscores the stakes for the 2022 midterm elections. While Republicans have the most favorable environment in years, buoyed by President Joe Biden’s sinking approval ratings, historical trends and voter anxiety over Covid-19 and the economy, the GOP knows full well that battle for control of the Senate remains on a knife’s edge — and that any single factor could upend a majority-making race.

And that single factor most certainly could be Trump.

“I still say it’s 50-50,” McConnell said, assessing the GOP chances to take back the Senate. Comparing Biden’s first midterm election to then-President Barack Obama’s in 2010, McConnell recalled that the Senate GOP at the time “nominated some unelectable candidates.” But he noted that Republicans only had 40 seats at the beginning of that cycle, compared to 50 now.

“It took us six years to climb out of that hole,” McConnell said of 2010. “We’re not in a hole now.”

“I think from an atmospheric point of view it’s highly likely to be a situation where the wind is at our backs,” he added.

Yet Democrats say McConnell has issues of his own making. He rallied Republicans in opposition to Democratic efforts to overhaul election laws, in an attempt to beat back restrictive actions taken by GOP-led states, and he even bungled remarks last week when talking about turnout among Black voters, forcing a senator with a penchant for staying furiously on message to clarify his statements amid a stinging backlash over his comments.
Asked about any concerns that his handling of the voting issue could turn off minorities in the midterms, McConnell shot back, saying: “It’s just as likely to be a liability for Democrats as it is for us,” citing support for voter ID laws, for example.

“I think I can pretty confidently say, we won’t lose any elections over that issue, anywhere in the country,” McConnell said. “People are concerned about a wholly different set of concerns. Inflation, an out-of-control border, Afghanistan withdrawal, the controversy over covid. I mean, the thought that a single Senate race in America would be decided over that issue strikes me as being wildly out of touch with what the American people are interested in.”

Courting governors despite Trump’s wrath

Other potential clashes with Trump could still yet occur.

McConnell is still pining for Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey — whom Trump continues to rail on for certifying Biden’s 2020 victory there — to run against freshman Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.
And he has courted Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan — who has long been sharply critical of the former President — to run against Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat.

Ducey continues to publicly say he’s not interested in running, while Hogan has yet to express serious interest in a Senate bid. McConnell said, “I just don’t know” if they’ll mount campaigns.

Doug Ducey, governor of Arizona, speaks during a Make America Great Again rally with then President Donald Trump, right, in Prescott, Arizona, in October 2020.

“Well, they’d both be ideal candidates, for obvious reasons,” McConnell said of Hogan and Ducey. “Both enjoy high approval ratings, and I think would make both those races instantly competitive.”

But in a blow to McConnell last year, another Republican governor bowed out, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, despite heavy lobbying by the GOP leader and other senators, a development he called “disappointing.” In the interview, McConnell singled out another candidate, Chuck Morse, the state Senate president who plans to jump into the race to take on Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in the fall.
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“We think New Hampshire is going to be much more receptive to Republicans as well, and we think we’ll have a good candidate there,” McConnell said.

Yet just last week Sununu gave the GOP another headache, telling the Washington Examiner that he was informed by multiple GOP senators that a Republican majority would be nothing more than a “roadblock” to Biden in the next two years, a chief reason why he passed on the bid.

Biden cited Sununu’s comments to rail on Republicans at his press conference last week. And McConnell refused to tell reporters last week what the GOP agenda would be if his party were to take back the Senate, saying instead the election will be a referendum on Biden.

Asked why Senate Republicans didn’t have an election-year agenda, McConnell told CNN: “I think it’s important for every candidate running next year to say what he or she is for.”

Citing his support for the infrastructure law, a measure to bolster US competitiveness with China and new efforts to overhaul a 19th-century law governing how Congress counts states’…

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