LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CBSDC/AP) — Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell is poised to take over as majority leader of the next Senate after easily winning what was billed as a tough re-election race. Now his GOP will try to set the agenda in the final two years of Democrat Barack Obama’s presidency.
McConnell’s victory came early in a night of decisive Republican victories around the country, giving the GOP a majority in both chambers. McConnell, who easily won his sixth term after earlier predictions that he was in jeopardy, has not revealed his priorities, telling reporters in recent weeks that the time wasn’t right yet to announce Republican plans.
“For too long, this administration has tried to tell the American people what’s good for them. And then blame somebody else when their policies didn’t work out,” McConnell told hundreds of supporters in Louisville on Tuesday night. “Tonight, Kentucky rejected that approach. Tonight Kentuckians said we can do better as a nation. Tonight, they said we can have real change in Washington. Real change. And that’s just what I intend to deliver.”
In declaring victory, McConnell hinted at a spirit of cooperation, saying leaders from both parties have “an obligation to work together on issues where we can agree.” He has told reporters recently that this could include overcoming entrenched positions to make changes in immigration laws.
“But some things don’t change after tonight,” he said. “I don’t expect the president to wake up tomorrow and view the world differently than he did when he woke up this morning. He knows I won’t either.”
Presidential historian Julian Zelizer believes Obama will use his executive authority to a greater extent, as the president plans to take action on climate change and immigration.
“I think the final two years will be a period of expanded executive power… and I think in Congress, although there will be some talk of bipartisan cooperation, Republicans will be more focused on putting forward bills that set them up for 2016,” Zelizer told CBS News.
McConnell trounced Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, the 35-year-old Secretary of State, by 15 points in Tuesday’s election. The race pitted the powerful fundraiser with three decades of Senate experience against the state’s top elections official, also the daughter of a state Democratic Party boss. About $78 million was spent, mainly on attack ads, most of which were funded by outside groups that were freed by the U.S. Supreme Court to spend like never before. The result was unrelenting negativity.
Democrats had hoped to capitalize on McConnell’s paltry approval ratings and unseat the Senate minority leader in a state where Democrats control the governor’s office and five of the six statewide constitutional offices. But McConnell succeeded in framing the race around Obama’s even lower popularity in Kentucky.
McConnell’s argument resonated with 36-year-old Jacob Mayes, who voted for him in Lawrenceburg, one of many small towns where the GOP dominated.
“Being majority leader would be a good thing for us,” Mayes said. “Nothing against her, I just think he would be a better choice for us right now.”
Rocky Adkins, who leads the Democratic majority in the state House of Representatives, said Obama has hurt Kentucky Democrats.
“There’s no question that there’s been harm done. That’s been a bigger part of the race than really the candidates that are in the race themselves,” Adkins said.
Grimes already was fading in the polls when she refused to say whether she voted for Obama’s re-election, encouraging McConnell’s anti-Obama narrative.
“I can’t say I was completely inspired by my Senate choice,” said James A. Savage, who teaches history at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and chose Grimes.
The dark public mood was captured by photographers when McConnell cast his ballot and a voter at a machine behind him gave the senator a “thumbs down” sign.
“This has been one of the dirtiest races I have seen in a while and I just want it to be over,” said David Nickell, a voter in western Kentucky.
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