Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

May 31, 2013

RONNIE ELLIS: McConnell, Paul living life in middle

By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — By RONNIE ELLIS

CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT Kentucky’s two Republican U.S. senators find themselves caught in the middle of opposing forces these days.

Mitch McConnell, who faces re-election next year, and Rand Paul, who is interested in running for president are trying to mollify multiple audiences, attempting to keep happy those on their right who can torpedo their plans while at the same time trying not to alienate the larger electorate they need to achieve their ultimate goals.

Last week Paul said he may offer an amendment to the immigration bill which would increase emphasis on border security and require an annual evaluation of how effectively the country is policing its borders before proceeding another year with immigration reform.

I suspect it’s not so much about immigration reform as it is satisfying his tea party base.

He has publicly called for the Republican Party to reach out to minorities. Paul knows the Republican Party — and especially a Republican named Rand Paul — can’t win a national election without cutting into the Democratic advantage with Hispanics, African-Americans and women.

Paul probably also knows, though he’s unlikely to say so, that President Barack Obama has significantly increased border patrols and — primarily because of the depressed economy — the number of undocumented aliens has actually decreased.

But he’s getting a lot of blowback from the tea party on his right, many of whom oppose immigration reform. Reaching out to minority groups on immigration risks the fervor and perhaps the support of many in the tea party.

Passing immigration reform will be tough enough and a Paul amendment along the lines he described last week isn’t likely to succeed. But it might give him cover with his tea party supporters and allow him to take a pass on the ultimate bill while still claiming a more moderate position on immigration with non-tea party voters.

While speaking to a Bullitt County Chamber of Commerce group Tuesday, McConnell also offered some carefully calibrated messages. McConnell of course blasted President Barack Obama, hitting the president on the controversy at the IRS and describing what he called a “culture of intimidation.” He called the Affordable Care Act “the single worst idea of our time,” and the man who in 2008 campaigned on his ability to bring federal dollars to Kentucky decried federal spending.

But McConnell still wants voters in 2014 to remember that as Minority Leader he occupies a powerful position which can benefit Kentucky. He’s been at the center of high profile compromises and proudly proclaims it. So how does he reconcile opposition to all things Obama with his role in major deals on taxes, the fiscal cliff and the national debt limit?

“So yeah, I made a deal with the administration that I thought was based on Republican values,” is how McConnell put it. He said he’s willing to “do business with (Obama) if it makes sense for the country.”

He may also have seen a poll by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning pollster, which showed half of the Kentucky respondents think McConnell “is part of the problem in Washington, D.C., and has forgotten about the people of Kentucky.”

McConnell also openly acknowledged another inconvenient problem for Republicans who say entitlements must be cut. He called Social Security and Medicare “very, very popular programs which you all like.”

For McConnell, the task is fending off a primary challenge from the right while not alienating those in the middle whose support he’ll need in a general election. For Paul, the reverse is his problem.

Perhaps both should remember the old Chinese proverb and curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.