MAYFIELD, Ky. (AP) – Saying it was never too soon to start, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell formally announced his 2020 re-election bid in his home state on Saturday and tapped the young leader of the state’s House Republicans as his campaign chairman.
The 76-year-old McConnell has said for months he intends to run for re-election in 2020. But he left little room for doubt while speaking at a GOP breakfast in far western Kentucky on Saturday, the precursor to the Fancy Farm picnic which serves as the traditional starting point for the state’s fall campaign season.
"I have some news to make this morning. I’m going to be running for re-election in 2020," McConnell told the crowd at Graves County Middle School, adding: "I don’t like starting late."
McConnell chose Jonathan Shell, the 30-year-old majority leader of the Kentucky House of Representatives, as chairman of his campaign. Shell made national news in May when he was ousted in a Republican primary by a high school math teacher who had never run for office before. The election was seen by many as result of massive protests by teachers and public workers across the country who were upset with education funding, retirement benefits and low pay.
Teachers planned to muster at the Fancy Farm picnic on Saturday, bringing along a red moving truck offering to help politicians move out of their offices. But McConnell dismissed their protests when asked if tapping Shell as his chairman was a risky move.
"I’m happy to have them here. I hope they eat a lot of barbecue," McConnell said of the teachers.
McConnell focused most of his remarks on his decision to deny former President Barack Obama a Supreme Court nomination in the final months of his presidency, a decision that is likely to be a major part of his re-election strategy. He said that decision was why the Supreme Court now has justice Neil Gorsuch and "that’s why we’re going to get Brett Kavanaugh," the judge Trump has nominated to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. McConnell added that if Republicans can keep control of the Senate for the rest of Trump’s term "we can transform the federal judiciary."
Republicans have 51 of the 100 Senate seats. But Democrats have far more incumbents on the ballot this fall than Republicans.
McConnell is one of the scheduled speakers at the Fancy Farm picnic later in the day, a tradition that dates to 1880. The picnic has become the launching point for the fall campaign season, pitting politicians from both parties before a rowdy crowd of hecklers as their speeches are broadcast live on statewide television.
Democrats hope the picnic will jumpstart their efforts to regain control of a state they once dominated for decades. They point to picnic no-shows this year, including Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, as evidence of their growing momentum that would scare them away from facing the raucous crowds of Fancy Farm.
Paul is not attending because he is on a trip to Russia. On Friday night, at the Democrats traditional bean supper, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said that "many folks think that Rand Paul can’t be beat."
"I don’t buy that. Just ask his neighbor. He can be beaten," she said, a reference to when Paul was attacked by his neighbor last year that resulted in six broken ribs.
Grimes’ comment was condemned by Republicans on social media, including Doug Stafford, Paul’s chief strategist.
"That’s almost as sad and pathetic as her last campaign," Stafford wrote, referring to Grimes’ 2014 challenge to McConnell. "Mitch beat her so bad he almost got charged with a hate crime."
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