U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell is getting heaps of praise and piles of scorn for his leading role in brokering a deal to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, raising questions about how the compromise will affect his 2014 re-election bid.
Ted Jackson, a Republican consultant from Louisville, said he was proud of McConnell for averting tax hikes on most Americans and putting Republicans in a better position to negotiate in the weeks ahead on spending cuts.
"He showed tremendous leadership and courage," Jackson said. "He stood up and was a leader and in my opinion that transcends any arguments about whether we caved. We didn't have anything to fight with."
McConnell, the Republican Senate leader who has represented Kentucky since 1985, negotiated with his old Senate colleague, Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, to get a deal that was approved by Congress and sent to President Barack Obama for his signature late Tuesday night. The compromise killed planned income tax hikes on most Americans and postponed deep federal spending cuts. It raised income taxes on families making $450,000 or more.
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Jackson said he believes McConnell was not thinking about how his role in the negotiations would affect his re-election bid in 2014.
"I think he put his own interests aside," Jackson said.
At least one Tea Party activist suggested McConnell's willingness to compromise on taxes will make him more vulnerable to a potential Republican challenger.
"There's no way he can be beat by the left in the red state of Kentucky but he could have a challenge from someone on the conservative right," said Tea Party activist David Adams of Lexington.
Adams, who managed Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul's primary campaign in 2010, predicted McConnell will be challenged in the 2014 Republican primary election. He declined to divulge names of possible candidates.
"Any potential challenger on the Republican side would be behind in fund raising but would become an instantaneous national figure with much publicity by taking on McConnell," he said.
Adams said he was "very disappointed" with McConnell.
"The deal increased spending more than it cut spending," Adams said. "He's made it absolutely clear he doesn't want smaller government. His actions are speaking louder than his words right now."
Others, including Jackson, said it's highly unlikely that a credible candidate will emerge to oppose McConnell next year. McConnell already has compiled a $7 million campaign chest for his re-election bid.
Only one person, Owensboro Democrat Ed Marksberry, has announced a campaign to run against McConnell in 2014. Speculation grows on the list of potential Democratic challengers, including actress Ashley Judd and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
On the Republican side, Phil Moffett said Wednesday he has no interest in running for any federal office. Moffett is a Louisville businessman who ran a tight race in the 2011 Republican primary for governor with Tea Party support.
Several national media members were effusive in praising McConnell for his fiscal cliff negotiations. They used phrases that any campaign consultant would love.
The Washington Post said McConnell "stepped in to save the party" and called him "a man who knows how to get things done." Fox News' Kelly Wright said McConnell is "known for having good brinksmanship and getting a deal done." MSNBC's Roberth Traynham said what McConnell and Biden "did was borderline brilliant."
In Kentucky, conservative radio talk show host Mandy Connell offered a decidedly different reaction Wednesday on Louisville's WHAS-AM. Connell said McConnell is "almost singlehandedly responsible for one of the greatest caves in Republican history of all times."
Cathy Flaig, former president of the Northern Kentucky Tea Party, said she, too, was disheartened with McConnell.
"I don't know why he got involved in the fiscal cliff," she said. "Exactly what is he going to do about this country's spending? This deal did not address that and that's a shame."
McConnell released a statement Wednesday calling for bipartisan action to curb Washington's "out-of-control" spending before an early March deadline on increasing the nation's debt limit.
"Washington's credit card has reached its limit again, and the Senate majority must act on legislation early in February — rather than waiting until the last minute, abdicating responsibility and hoping someone else will step in once again to craft a last-minute solution for them," McConnell said. "Once the Senate passes bipartisan legislation, we can conference with the House on a solution. But this time the entire Senate must have an opportunity to act."