Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is in a precarious position. U.S. Senator Luther Strange’s nine-point loss to former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore in the Alabama Republican Primary Runoff did not just deal a blow to President Donald Trump’s influence. Moore’s victory over Strange was a defeat for McConnell as well.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-aligned Super PAC, spent $9 million supporting Strange in the race.
Should Moore lose to the Democratic nominee, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, in the general election (which is unlikely) on December 12 it will chip away at the slim 52 seat majority McConnell has. Should Moore win McConnell will have another protagonist coming to the Senate which could make holding on to his leadership more difficult.
Another blow to McConnell came from news that U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) will retire at the end of his term in 2018. He wrote on Facebook:
After much thought, consideration and family discussion over the past year, Elizabeth and I have decided that I will leave the United States Senate when my term expires at the end of 2018. When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms. Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me. I also believe the most important public service I have to offer our country could well occur over the next 15 months, and I want to be able to do that as thoughtfully and independently as I did the first 10 years and nine months of my Senate career. Serving the people of Tennessee in this capacity has been the greatest privilege of my life. And as I spent the month of August traveling across our great state, I was reminded that we live in a unique place full of people who care deeply about the direction of our country. I am grateful to the people of Tennessee for the opportunity to serve my state and country. I have been fortunate to do so with an extraordinary staff, and I want to thank them for their incredible dedication. I know that we will continue to have an impact for the remainder of our term, and I look forward to finding other ways to make a difference in the future. Finally, I want to thank my wife, Elizabeth, and our family, who have made many sacrifices in allowing me to serve. Nothing I have done would have been possible without their love and support.
The upcoming Republican primary in Tennessee could bring forth another anti-establishment candidate such as Moore as the conservative base has been frustrated by the Senate’s inability to repeal Obamacare. Other incumbent Republican Senators face primary challenges favored by grassroots conservatives. Kelli Ward, who lost her primary challenge to U.S. Senator John McCain in 2016, hopes to beat U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
Public Policy Polling showed Flake with dismal 18 percent approval rating among all Arizonans while 63 percent disapproved. It wasn’t much better from those who supported Trump (whom Flake has publicly criticized) with only 22 percent approval and 63 percent disapproval. A JMC Analytics poll last month showed not only a dismal 22 percent approval rating among Republicans with 67 percent disapproval but also Ward leads Flake by 26 points – 47 percent to 21 percent.
Mississippi State Lawmaker Chris McDaniel who narrowly lost to U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) in 2014 could challenge McConnell ally U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) in 2018.
Moore’s victory could embolden other conservative primary challengers to Republican incumbents as the 2018 Senate map also looks favorable for Republicans.