McConnell opens campaign HQ: 'If they want a fight, we're ready'


by Joe Arnold

Posted on February 3, 2013 at 1:38 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 7 at 4:15 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- "If they want a fight, we're ready."

At the opening of his 2014 campaign headquarters on Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged the target on his back, saying "Obama operatives" were working on unseating him even before the president's reelection in November.

"Let me tell you why we are open here at a much earlier time than I've ever been open in a previous campaign," McConnell told supporters in Louisville.  "There's only one race in 2014 that has any national significance.  Just one.  And it's this one.  And you know why. You know why.  As the Republican Leader of the Senate, I'm - along with the Speaker - the opposition to this administration when they veer in the wrong direction, which regretfully has been most of the time."

"The reason you're here today is because they want to take me out," McConnell told the gathering.

McConnell, the longest serving Kentucky senator in history, is vying for a sixth six-year term.  Only one candidate has filed to run against him, Owensboro Democrat Ed Marksberry who lost a poorly funded 2010 congressional race by 35 points to Republican Brett Guthrie.

McConnell said he knows "the national Democratic Party is going to make sure that I have" a competitive opponent.

He declined to predict whether actress Ashley Judd or Secretary of State Alison Lundergan-Grimes will enter the Democratic primary nor assess who would fare best against him.

"I have always believed that every race I've been in was a choice," McConnell told reporters, "a choice between me and my opponent.  Whoever my opponent is will point out what they think my weaknesses are. I will point out what I think theirs are."

McConnell was also asked about a potential Republican primary challenge.  A tea party group headed by John T. Kemper, a former candidate for state auditor and Congress, has pledged to work against McConnell's reelection. 

Kemper has denied assertions by the McConnell campaign that Democrats are attempting to infiltrate conservative organizations in Kentucky to encourage and fund opposition to McConnell.  A liberal super PAC, Progress Kentucky, is leading a recruitment effort to find a credible opponent.

"I'm bracing for any challenge, any challenge," McConnell said.  "I don't own this job. I have no sense of entitlement. I have to earn the respect and votes of my constituents every time, whether it's in the primary or whether it's in the general. We're up and running well in advance and we'll be prepared for whatever comes my way."

McConnell's campaign has $7.4 million cash on hand, according to a finance report released on Thursday.

McConnell's August, 2012 hire of Jesse Benton as campaign manager was seen as an effort to reach out to tea party Republicans and discourage a GOP primary challenge.

On Saturday, however, McConnell told supporters he hired Benton because of his experience running Rand Paul's successful 2010 Senate campaign and Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign.

"Even though it didn't lead to a nomination, (it) was widely viewed by political professionals around the country as one of the most skillful campaigns in the history of presidential politics," McConnell said.