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McConnell's career boiled down in book

LOUISVILLE — In his 1990 race for re-election to the U.S. Senate against Democrat Harvey Sloane, Republican Mitch McConnell encountered a Fraternal Order of Police member in Jefferson County who told the senator he didn't like either candidate.

"You ought to be happy," said McConnell, "because in this election you're gonna get rid of one of those son-of-a-b------."

McConnell picked up the FOP endorsement and stayed in the U.S. Senate, where he now is the Senate minority leader and the longest-serving U.S. senator in Kentucky history.

A new book by Louisville lawyer John David Dyche spells out the sometimes improbable story of how McConnell has become Washington's most powerful Republican.

The 233-page publication is full of McConnell anecdotes, such as his encounter with the FOP member, that exemplify McConnell's favorite campaign maxim: "If someone flicks a pebble at you, hurl a boulder back."

Republican Leader: A Political Biography of Senator Mitch McConnell, will be released June 15 by ISI Books of Wilmington, Del. The publisher recently distributed a few "uncorrected, advanced review" copies of the book, which will sell for $25.

The book also has an abundant supply of venom for McConnell's detractors, especially fellow Republican Larry Forgy, who is described as a "habitual McConnell critic," and the "mainly hostile mainstream media," particularly the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Dyche acknowledges that he likes McConnell and is "generally in sympathy with his politics."

In an interview last week in his 27th-floor law office in downtown Louisville, Dyche said the book does not pretend to be the definitive biography of McConnell.

Its purpose, he says, is to recount "the political career of the man in whom conservatives have invested their hopes of holding off the worst excesses of triumphant liberalism while the Right attempts to regroup."

McConnell said through his press aide, Robert Steurer, that he cannot offer an opinion of the book because he has not read it. Steurer said McConnell did not suggest the book be written, had no financial investment in it and will not be appearing in any promotional tour.

The senator "has always said, 'It's your book,' " Dyche said. However, McConnell was allowed to review drafts of portions of the manuscript for accuracy, Dyche said.

Dyche, a native of London in southeastern Kentucky who also writes a political column for The Courier-Journal, has worked on the book for five years.

He had hoped to wrap up the book sooner with expectations that McConnell would become Senate majority leader, but Democrats retook the Senate in 2007 just as McConnell became his party's leader.

The book is now even more marketable, Dyche said, because McConnell "became more nationally important" with last year's election of Democrat Barack Obama to the White House.

The idea for the book came in 2004 when "longtime friend" Hunter Bates approached him about it, Dyche said.

Bates, a Louisville attorney, was a McConnell protégé who stepped aside as GOP gubernatorial candidate Ernie Fletcher's running mate in 2003 after a judge ruled that he did not meet state residency requirements.

Bates said he considers Dyche "the George Will of Kentucky columnists" and "thought it was worth exploring whether Kentucky's best columnist would be interested in writing a book about Kentucky's most powerful political figure in modern history."

The book is mostly complimentary of McConnell. It does point out some of his "shortcomings," such as McConnell's admission that he made a mistake in late 1985 when he announced the Toyota project's arrival in Georgetown, "which he had little to do with."

The book focuses a great deal on McConnell's elections for the U.S. Senate, especially his first one in 1984, when his "Hound Dogs" ad against Democratic incumbent Walter "Dee" Huddleston garnered national attention.

The ad used two sniffing hound dogs to emphasize a campaign theme that Huddleston often was an absentee lawmaker.

Huddleston said last week that the ad was "very clever. It was a big mistake for me not to have addressed it. It probably cost me the election." He said he plans to read the book.

The book declares that Gov. Steve Beshear, whom McConnell defeated in the 1996 U.S. Senate race, "had no illusions about his chance of success, but for the sake of his party, and hoping to ride the coattails of President Clinton's likely re-election, he got in the race."

Beshear said last week through his press secretary, Jay Blanton, that Dyche's analysis "sounds accurate."

One Kentucky political figure who does not plan on reading the book is Forgy, a Lexington attorney who lost a narrow race for governor in 1995 against Democrat Paul Patton. Forgy and McConnell have been bitter political enemies for years.

"Why should I read a book about the most self-centered politician I've ever known?" asked Forgy.

"I expect this book will make the shortest trip between release and remainder bin since Jim Wright wrote his."

Forgy was referring to a1988 book by the Democratic House speaker from Texas that was bought in bulk by longtime supporters to benefit Wright.

Like Forgy, the mainstream media do not fare well in Dyche's book.

It contends the media "have tried to turn McConnell into a stereotype as a major opponent of campaign finance reform and 'obstructer-in-chief' of Democratic legislative initiatives."