Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell defeated Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and was re-elected in Kentucky, where he is poised to be promoted to majority leader after a good night for GOP Senate candidates.
McConnell, the Republican leader in the United States Senate, was a prime target for Democrats eager to focus voters’ frustration with Washington on a big GOP name. His mediocre approval ratings in the state made him a particularly appealing focus for foes, although a much-discussed primary challenge by businessman Matt Bevin in May ended in a blowout.
Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state, also has deep roots there. Her father, Jerry Lundergan, is a former Kentucky Democratic Chairman who is close with the Clinton family. While both Clintons stumped for her several times in this marquee race, Grimes distanced herself from President Barack Obama, sometimes to an awkward degree: her refusal to say whether she voted for Obama was widely covered as a strategic stumble.
McConnell won his race despite Kentucky voters’ negative views of him. McConnell has a 52% unfavorable rating to just 46% favorable in the NBC News exit poll, which is usually dangerous territory for an incumbent. Fortunately for McConnell, his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, proved to be a lackluster candidate. The president has a 63% disapproval rating in the Blue Grass State to just 37% approval. According to the exit poll, Grimes’ voter rating stands at 54% unfavorable to just 43% favorable. The Democrat is also seriously undercut by the broader political environment. More than half – 52% -- of Kentucky voters feel that the government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.
Kentucky is one of the numerous states where the big question is whether voters see this election as a referendum on President Obama. The president has a 63% disapproval rating in the Blue Grass State to just 37% approval. Half of Kentucky voters said that Obama factored into their vote for U.S. Senate, with those looking to express opposition to the president outnumbering those expressing support by a 38% to 11% margin.
-- Carrie Dann and Patrick Murray