May 20 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cleared the first hurdle in his bid for a sixth term. The second promises to be considerably harder.
McConnell defeated Matt Bevin, a businessman aligned with the limited-government Tea Party movement, in Kentucky’s Republican primary.
McConnell, 72, will next face Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state, in November’s election. She also won her party’s nomination today, taking more than 75 percent of the vote.
The McConnell-Grimes race is shaping up to be one of this year’s most closely watched contests. Republicans need a net gain of six seats for a Senate majority, and a McConnell loss would be a blow to the party’s chances of achieving that goal. If he wins re-election and Republicans pick-up the required seats, McConnell also would be positioned to become Senate majority leader.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, McConnell had 60 percent of the vote in the five-candidate field, according to the Associated Press tally. Bevin was running second, with 36 percent.
Polling shows a close contest between McConnell and Grimes, in large part because of the incumbent senator’s unpopularity in his home state. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington rates the Kentucky race a “tossup” in November.
McConnell will work to tie Grimes to President Barack Obama, who won just 38 percent of the state’s vote in the 2012 presidential election.
Grimes, 35, has already benefited from a fundraising visit to Kentucky by former President Bill Clinton as Democrats across the nation have rallied to her side.
Besides his Senate leadership role, McConnell makes a prime target for Democrats because of his ongoing efforts to delay and defeat legislation pushed by Obama. That sentiment was epitomized by his comments to an interviewer in 2010 when he said that “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
McConnell has experience with close elections. In 2008, he won his fifth term with 53 percent of the vote against Democrat Bruce Lunsford. In his first Senate race -- in 1984 -- he defeated a Democratic incumbent by barely more than 5,000 votes out of more than 1.2 million cast.
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