Kenny Colston's report on Kentucky's 2014 U.S. Senate race
Senator Mitch McConnell's next election is a year and a half away, and he doesn't have a serious opponent. But this hasn't stopped him from amassing significant money and personnel for his re-election.
Every week, new field directors, political staff and fundraisers join the effort to re-elect McConnell. But while they have the same goal, they don't have the same boss. Some of the staffers work for McConnell's campaign. Others are paid by the Republican Party of Kentucky, while some answer to various SuperPACs.
Scott Jennings is in that last category. He's a longtime political operative who has worked on two presidential campaigns and for McConnell in the past. This year, he's working with the newly-formed Kentuckians for Strong Leadership and the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, which has just begun running ads supporting conservative ideas.
Jennings controls those organizations from an East Louisville office, which he shares with the PR firm he founded this year.
Jennings says conservative interest in the race has picked up now because supporters respect the role McConnell has played in blocking President Barack Obama's agenda.
Kentuckians have 590 days-plus before the 2014 general election, but already the political chatter is centered on potential challengers to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell—chiefly actress Ashley Judd and her potential candidacy's supposed strengths and weaknesses.
But Judd isn't the only possible candidate. Many veteran Kentucky political operatives—not to mention rural Democrats—are pushing a prospective Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes candidacy over Judd's. And some Tea Party groups are pushing Louisville businessman Matthew Bevin as a possible challenger to McConnell in the Republican primary.
With so many stories, quotes and talk flying around on these three candidates, here's a look at the positives and negatives that each could bring to the table in 2014. The list is by no means exhaustive, but's a reflection of what's being said publicly and privately in Kentucky and national political circles.
* Near universal name recognition. Supporters point out that Judd's work as an actress, plus as a prominent University of Kentucky basketball fan, gives her the best name ID of any candidate rumored in the race. And they point out that good name ID leaves more money to use on things other than introductory ads.
A feisty Mitch McConnell promised to take the fight to any opponent as the Senate's top Republican got a head start on a 2014 re-election campaign that could squeeze him between challenges from his own party as well as from Democrats.
Kentucky's longest-serving senator opened a campaign office in his hometown of Louisville on Saturday, about a year earlier than in his previous campaigns. It was a clear message to critics as he vowed to wage the "biggest and best campaign this state has ever seen."
"They want to take me out," McConnell told a group of supporters. "This is the only race in the country with any national significance. And that's why we're up and running this far in advance."
The Senate minority leader then declared, "If they want to fight, we're ready."
Politics makes strange bedfellows. That wise old adage is being proven once again in Kentucky, where some liberal activists and left-wing super PACs are telling Tea Party groups they'll support a conservative challenge against U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in the 2014 GOP primary.
Politico reports the goal for liberals would be to "soften up" McConnell in the primary, in hopes that he would then be vulnerable against a strong Democratic challenger in the November general election.
No big-name Democratic challengers have thrown their hats into the ring yet, with only Owensboro home-builder Ed Marksberry so far committing to the race. Rumors have been swirling regarding a potential Senate run by Kentucky-born actress Ashley Judd, but Judd recently said she is undecided about entering the race.
McConnell finds himself taking heat from the right, with some Kentucky Tea Party groups accusing the GOP incumbent of being too moderate in recent negotiations over the fiscal cliff.
And a recent Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll shows 34% of those surveyed said they would vote against McConnell in 2014, with just 17% saying they'll vote for the Louisville Republican. Forty-four percent said they were undecided.