MAYFIELD — Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell gave Kentucky Republicans a preview of next year’s presidential race and how his party will run against incumbent President Barack Obama at a pre-Fancy Farm breakfast of Republicans here.
McConnell conceded Obama inherited a bad economy: “But … he … made … it … worse,” he said slowly, pausing at each word. “By any objective standards, he made it worse.”
Unemployment is up; the national debt is up; gas prices are up; and individual health premiums have gone up, McConnell said.
The man, who many saw as pivotal in the recent agreement that averted the national default, then pivoted to the Kentucky governor’s race. That race – between Republican and McConnell ally, state Senate President David Williams, and incumbent Democrat Steve Beshear as well as independent Gatewood Galbraith - will be watched nationally, he said.
“Kentucky’s governor’s race will be watched by everyone in America as an indication of which way things might be going next year,” McConnell told 250 or so Republicans gathered for their annual breakfast in advance of Saturday’s Fancy Farm Picnic and political free-for-all. McConnell recalled he defeated Beshear’s Senate challenge in 1996.
“Now this guy needs to go do something else,” McConnell said of the governor. “You know who he’s going to be supporting for president. He’s going to do everything he can to help the president. That’s not the direction I think Kentucky wants to take.”
McConnell said Republicans have the right alternative – even though some Republicans have been less than energetic about Williams who won a narrower-than-expected primary over tea party favorite Phil Moffett, who was also on hand Saturday morning.
“We have, in my view, the most consequential Republican in modern times in state government – David Williams - the next governor of the state of Kentucky,” McConnell said. He said Republicans – led by McConnell of course – have turned Kentucky “more and more red,” but their successes have been at the federal and state levels. But it’s time, he said, to do the same in Frankfort.
“You can’t change Kentucky in the direction of being a competitive state unless you change the governor’s office and David Williams is the key to that,” McConnell said. “Let’s get him elected.”
Williams followed later and continued the competitive theme, something he’s used throughout the campaign, often comparing Kentucky to Tennessee. He took some shots at Beshear as well but said he was reserving most of his fire for the political speaking later that day at Fancy Farm.
He addressed his party’s greatest question: “Can he win?”
“Some people say we can’t win,” Williams told the crowd. “Well, 90 days out, we’re going to show ‘em we can win.”
McConnell didn’t directly address his part in negotiating a last-minute deal in the federal debt limit standoff, but he thanked his party for helping him rise to the position of Republican leader in the U.S. Senate, a position from which he helps decide some of the country’s most important debates.
“I’ve had an opportunity to be in the middle of some of the great decisions that have been made in modern times,” he said.
“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart,” said McConnell, for a moment sounding as if his voice was faltering. “You know I made of made a difference for this wonderful country we have. I’m so grateful for the opportunity.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.