It hasn’t been an easy 10 months for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In fact, it’s been a nasty slog to primary day in the Bluegrass State.
But the man who once polled as the most unpopular Republican in the entire country is expected to easily defeat challenger Matt Bevin in Kentucky’s Republican primary on Tuesday.
Evidence of McConnell’s likely victory: The Real Clear Politics polling average shows McConnell leading Bevin by 26 points.
A McConnell win would come after his campaign pulled off two major feats early in the primary.
First, they secured Rand Paul’s endorsement — even hiring Paul’s senior adviser and family member as campaign manager — to ensure the libertarian-leaning senator’s grassroots following in the state wouldn’t support a GOP challenger en masse.
The minority leader’s team also raised enough questions about Bevin’s past to make him appear unsuitable, even to conservatives who aren’t in love with McConnell.
In an interview with The Daily Caller when he announced his candidacy, Bevin came out swinging hard against McConnell, foreshadowing a campaign focused on how the GOP leader is insufficiently conservative.
“There’s a tremendous level of dissatisfaction with the fact that for 30 years, he’s been just a big government guy,” Bevin said of McConnell in July.
But for Bevin, the GOP campaign never really became a referendum on McConnell. Instead, the most memorable primary episodes were about Bevin’s past.
Things McConnell’s camp successfully turned into campaign issues for Bevin: Tax delinquency; bailouts for his business; false claims about attending MIT on LinkedIn;cockfighting rallies; praising TARP.
A number of national conservative groups endorsed Bevin, including FreedomWorks, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Madison Project. But Bevin’s campaign — whose spokeswoman mysteriously quit weeks before the primary — failed to ever really make the campaign about McConnell’s record.
In a pre-Election Day memo, McConnell campaign senior adviser Josh Holmes pointed out that Bevin and his allies spent a lot of money going after McConnell. “In the last two cycles, no primary challenger of an incumbent senator spent more campaign money than Matt Bevin,” Holmes wrote.
Holmes said Bevin dropped about $3 million dollars on the race, while benefiting from more than a million dollars in expenditures from outside conservative groups.
Despite all of this, Bevin was still arguing the night before the election that he could still topple McConnell.
In a news release sent Monday night with the subject, “New poll shows Bevin victory within reach,” Bevin touted a Human Events/Gravis Marketing poll showing him 14 points down. In the poll, 48 percent support McConnell, with 34 percent supporting Bevin.
“With McConnell under 50 percent, and 18 percent still undecided, Bevin can make up for the 14 point gap on Election Day,” the campaign said in the release.
Bevin spokeswoman Sarah Durand said, “After spending over $10 million, McConnell has seen his lead drop by double digits in recent weeks. He’s now dangerously under 50 percent and we have the momentum in the closing days.”
The winner of this fight is expected to face Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in November’s election. In his memo, Holmes predicted they will enter the general election with “significant momentum.”
“The issues, the environment, and the historical precedent of the sixth year of a presidency are all working against Alison Lundergan Grimes,” Holmes said.
Other primaries to watch on Tuesday
Voters head to the polls in six states on Tuesday — including Georgia and Oregon, where competitive Republican primaries for the U.S. Senate are also taking place.
In Georgia, former Secretary of State Karen Handel, Rep. Jack Kingston, Rep. Phil Gingrey, Rep. Paul Broun and businessman David Perdue are battling it out in the GOP primary. If no candidate gets 50 percent, a run off will be held in July for the top two vote-getters.
The winner of the Republican primary will likely face Michelle Nunn.
In Oregon, doctor Monica Wehby and State Rep. Jason Conger are duking it out in the state’s Republican primary. The winner faces Democratic incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley.