LEXINGTON, Ky. — U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell took political potshots Saturday at President Barack Obama, saying his expertise at "the blame game" allowed him to win re-election to a second term even though he did a "very poor job" in the first.
McConnell, who is up for re-election next year, delivered the remarks to Kentucky's GOP faithful at a statewide dinner in Lexington, reflecting a campaign strategy to make the race about Obama, who won only four of Kentucky's 120 counties in his last election. McConnell said Obama will be "the albatross my opponent will have to carry over the finish line" next year.
Republican colleague and tea party darling Rand Paul joined in the Obama bashing, reusing a previous line in a video recorded for the event that the administration is like a children's song: "Here a scandal. There a scandal. Everywhere a scandal."
McConnell's appearance at the annual Kentucky Lincoln Day dinner came just more than a week after Kentucky Democrats unleashed a barrage of criticism against him. A potential Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, called McConnell and obstructionist who has put his own interests ahead of those of Kentuckians. Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth said he could keep his remarks short by saying simply: "McConnell sucks."
Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon had predicted Saturday's Republican attack on Obama.
"It's sad," Logsdon said, "that a dinner dedicated to Abraham Lincoln will be devoid of substance or an appeal to the 'better angels of our nature.'"
Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, a potential GOP primary opponent to McConnell, was among the crowd of about 300 who paid $100 a plate to attend the dinner at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Lexington. Bevin, sitting three tables away from Kentucky's senior senator, offered no timetable for a decision.
"When the time comes and I have something to say, I promise I'll let you know," he told reporters.
Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, the only Republican serving in a statewide elected position besides McConnell and Paul, said the state's top Democrats — including Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, state Auditor Adam Edelen and House Speaker Greg Stumbo — have opted to stay out of the Senate race because they know they can't win against McConnell.
Republican state House Whip Bam Carney said he expects down-ballot Republicans to be swept into state legislative seats on McConnell's coattails in next year's election.
"I'm glad to be running with you," he said, peering over the podium at McConnell, drawing cheers from the crowd.
Democrats have been looking for a challenger to McConnell, who has already raised some $13 million for his re-election campaign. Grimes has essentially frozen the Democratic field while she wrestles with a decision. She has offered no timetable for making up her mind.
Several other Democrats are considering the race, including former Miss America Heather French Henry of Louisville, the wife of former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry. Former Democratic Party Chairman Bill Garmer and environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald have also said they may run.
Actress Ashley Judd, a former Kentucky resident, had considered the race but decided against it earlier this year.
Defeating McConnell would be the Democrats' biggest prize of the 2014 election. His seat is one of 14 that Republicans are defending, while Democrats try to hold onto 21.
McConnell, who has served in the U.S. Senate since 1984, has never lost an election. He spent more than $20 million in 2008 to beat Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford, a wealthy Louisville businessman, by 6 percentage points.