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Mitch McConnell's Big Mitch Problem

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The Senate Republican leader just won his primary. But his biggest obstacle in the general won't be his Democratic opponent.

It is odd that in a year widely cited by political handicappers as favorable for Republicans, one of the most senior elected GOP officials in Washington -- Mitch McConnell, the minority leader of the Senate -- is perhaps the most embattled Republican incumbent up for reelection. Though McConnell easily fended off a tea party challenge in his home state of Kentucky, defeating businessman Matt Bevin in Tuesday's Republican primary contest, the five-term senator will now face off against Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's Democratic secretary of state, in a race deemed to be one of the more competitive clashes of the year. Yes, with Republicans riding high -- and giddy at the prospect of taking the Senate -- their main man in the Senate is fighting for his political life. Why is this? The answer may be simple: he's not that likeable.

In his decades in public life, McConnell has not been fully embraced by his fellow Bluegrass Staters. He won his Senate seat by taking on Democratic incumbent Walter Huddleston in 1984, and he bagged merely 5,200 votes more than Huddleston -- about a .4-percent margin. (Ronald Reagan won the state that year by 21 percentage points.) In his four subsequent reelection bids, McConnell only topped 55 percent of the vote once. (In 2002, he drew 64.7 percent.) These days, his approval rating in the state hovers in the low 30s -- far below President Barack Obama's anemic national numbers. Given McConnell's low standing, almost any Democrat who doesn't drool would stand a chance against this well-funded, influential Washington powerbroker.

McConnell's political unpopularity among Democrats is not surprising. He lacks the slightest hint of charisma or charm -- or personality -- that conservatives sometimes can employ to win over Dems, especially in southern states. He certainly doesn't look good holding a gun. His awkward relationship with conservatives is a bit puzzling. In Washington, he has in recent years developed the rep as a chief obstructer of Obama. In 2010, he notably said, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

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David Corn is  Mother Jones ' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories,  click here . He's also  on  Twitter  and  FacebookRSS  |    David is (more...)
 

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