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McConnell fighting Bush’s battles in Senate
President Bush tomorrow will raise money for his political field general, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has stymied Democrats at almost every turn of the Iraq war debate.
“We think Mitch McConnell is a terrific and able minority leader,” said White House spokesman Tony Snow, who declined to comment on how Democrats have fared in their attempts to halt the president’s surge of troops to Iraq.
“You say Democrats are in disarray?” Mr. Snow said, feigning ignorance.
With the congressional debate over the war at fever pitch, Democratic leaders who rode to victory last fall on the promise of bringing the troops home are under fire from virtually every direction. The far left is growing impatient with the lack of progress, while more conservative Democrats are unhappy with the ideas proposed so far.
Mr. McConnell, 65, who looks more like a bookkeeper than a power broker, is “savagely political,” according to one high-placed Democratic source. The Kentucky Republican has twice defeated Majority Leader Harry Reid’s attempts to push through an anti-war measure that would have shut out Republican amendments.
“I don’t think there’s anybody in the Senate who is better than he is at managing the Senate and using the Senate rules,” said Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican.
“I think that’s what Senator McConnell principally has been trying to do, to make sure that all sides get a hearing,” Mr. Snow said.
But Mr. McConnell’s effectiveness has drawn attention from far-left Web loggers, as well as calls for the four-term senator to be targeted for defeat in 2008.
“When Reid can’t get anything through the Senate, like … the minimum wage or a vote on Iraq, the reason is Mitch McConnell,” Matt Stoller wrote at MyDD.com this week. “It’s time to do to Mitch McConnell what the GOP did to [former Majority Leader] Tom Daschle — make him the symbol of everything that is wrong and get rid of him in a presidential year.”
The latest polls show that more Kentucky voters approve of Mr. McConnell’s performance than disapprove. However, a poll by the Louisville Courier-Journal last month showed that while 54 percent approved of Mr. McConnell, 52 percent said he should oppose Mr. Bush’s surge plan.
Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan said it would be hard to unseat Mr. McConnell, “but I do believe that if he has ever been vulnerable, it is now.”
Mr. McConnell has more than $3 million in his campaign war chest, spokesman Don Stewart said. He would not comment on how much the campaign expects to raise at the fundraiser Mr. Bush will headline tomorrow in Louisville to kick off the senator’s 2008 re-election campaign.
The most prominent likely challenger to Mr. McConnell is wealthy Louisville businessman Charlie Owen, who ran for the Senate in 2002 but lost in the primary.
“I just don’t see anything materializing as a serious challenge to him. He’s just done too good of a job,” said Darrell Brock, chairman of the Kentucky Republican Party.
By John R. Bolton
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