- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sen. Mitch McConnell assured conservative activists he won’t disappoint them if they give him enough troops for the GOP to take control of the Senate in November’s elections, as he sought to tamp down a growing rift between tea party activists and top Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.

Carrying a rifle to the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Kentucky Republican said if Republicans win the six seats needed to make him majority leader, conservative ideas “will get a hearing” and liberal ideas will be defeated.

“If I am given the opportunity to lead the U.S. Senate next year, I won’t let you down,” Mr. McConnell said.

But speaking to reporters earlier, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said they aren’t even planning for a possible GOP takeover, saying they don’t think it’s likely, and that if it did happen, the results would be a disaster for the nation.

“We’re very confident the Democrats will retain the Senate. That’s where all of our energy and our focus is,” Mr. Pfeiffer said at a breakfast hosted by Politico.

He warned that if the GOP won the Senate, it “would spend all of its time trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”

Mr. McConnell, in his remarks to CPAC, affirmed that, saying Obamacare has hurt businesses and led to a presidential power grab.

Mr. McConnell’s remarks come at a time when he is facing a tea party-backed primary challenge for his Senate seat in Kentucky, and as he faces grumbling from conservatives over being the key vote that allowed President Obama a 13-month debt holiday.

The senator’s remarks seemed aimed at tamping down fears that he would be too eager to work with Democrats rather than pursue conservative policies if the GOP does win control of the Senate.

“We will fight tooth and nail for conservative reforms that put this country back on track,” he said. “We will debate our ideas openly. We will vote without fear. And we will govern with the understanding that the future of this country depends on our success.”

The gun he brought to the stage was an NRA award for Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican and conservative icon who is retiring at the end of this year. Mr. McConnell said he would lead the Senate in a way that would make Mr. Coburn proud.

Still, his vow to hew to the conservative line drew derision from some in his audience Thursday.

“He’s been there too long and he is really out of touch with the real base of the Republican Party,” said Jinny Walz, a 73-year-old from Kansas, who said she feels like Republican leaders use conservative activists to win elections, but then turn on them in Washington.

“I have said this to a lot of politicians in Kansas, ‘You establishment, you treat us like prostitutes,’” she said. “At night you want us, but as soon as that is over they pretend they don’t know us. That is the sad part and that is truth.”

But John Gorham, a 51-year-old Army veteran from Maryland, said Mr. McConnell deserves a chance to prove he would lead the Senate as a conservative.

“I don’t know if he has been a remarkable minority leader in Senate recently, but look at what he has to work with,” he said. “I would be willing to give him the chance and I would love for him to have the opportunity after November. It is a shot in the dark as to whether it would work or not.”

• Seth McLaughlin contributed to this article.

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