Thursday, December 07, 2000

McConnell funding term ends

Senate GOP hold thinned under him

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has stepped down as chairman of one of the most powerful and financially potent political organizations in the country.

        During his four years as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Louisville Republican helped raise and spend an estimated $163 million trying to elect Republicans to the U.S. Senate.

        But because Mr. McConnell plans to seek a fourth term in 2002, he was precluded from serving another term as the committee chairman, said Robert Steurer, the senator's spokesman.

        A senator seeking re-election in the two-year election cycle cannot serve as head of the committee, Mr. Steurer said. Though senators serve six years in office, the terms are staggered and there are Senate elections across the country every two years.

        On Tuesday, Senate Republicans elected Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee as the new chairman of the committee.

        During his four years chairing the committee, Mr. McConnell raised his national profile and reputation as a fund-raiser and political strategist. He is a regular on the Sunday morning news talk shows and is often quoted in the national press.

        “Mitch McConnell is one of the best campaign managers around,” said Jennifer Duffy, an editor with the Cook Report, a respected Washington-based political newsletter.

        But Mr. McConnell's results were mixed as head of the political organization designed to win the GOP Senate seats.

        In 1998, the Senate Republicans held their majority but did not pick up any seats — despite widespread predictions that the party would widen its hold on the Senate.

        In this year's election, the Republicans lost four seats. And if George W. Bush is declared the winner of the presidency, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman returns to the Senate and splits the vote: 50 Republicans, 50 Democrats.

        “On its face, it looks like McConnell had a bad night election night,” Ms. Duffy said. “But there are no real patterns to these races. Each one has its own unique circumstances.”

        For instance:

        • New York: In a race Mr. McConnell and the Republicans wanted badly to win, GOP candidate Rick Lazio only had five months to campaign after New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani dropped out of the race because of prostate cancer. Democrat Hillary Clinton won the race.

        “And Lazio refused to take soft money,” Ms. Duffy said. “That's what these committees do, raise soft money. That limited somewhat how much McConnell could do for him.”

        • Delaware: Several Republicans tried to talk Sen. William Roth, 79, into retiring, Ms. Duff said. But despite his age, the six-term Republican ran and lost to Democratic Gov. Thomas Caper.

        • Missouri: Republican John Ashcroft basically lost to a dead man. Gov. Mel Carnahan, a Democrat, died in an Oct. 16 plane crash but still beat Mr. Ashcroft. Mr. Carnahan's widow, Jean Carnahan, has been appointed to the Senate seat.

        “There were some weird races this year,” Ms. Duffy said. “You look at the two (election) cycles and I don't think you can give (Mr. McConnell) a failing grade ...”

        University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, one the nation's leading authorities on Congress, said Mr. McConnell performed well in the two major goals of the committee chairman - raising money and recruiting candidates.

        “One person can not determine the results of Senate elections,” Mr. Sabato said Wednesday. “McConnell succeeded in an important way in that he raised a ton of money.

        “But he was unable to stem the tide and the fates were not with him,” he said.


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