Messing With Mitch

In a week when the air over Washington is full of speculation about where the party committees and “independent” moneybags decide to deploy their dollars down the midterm stretch, one bit of hard news is drawing gasps of surprise, per this report from The Hill‘s Alexander Bolton:

Democrats in Washington are taking a risky bet by quadrupling their investment in Alison Lundergan Grimes, a young and largely unproven challenger, who is running against Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).

Spending a fresh $1.4 million on a statewide TV ad bashing McConnell is a gamble for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which has six vulnerable incumbents and a long-held Democratic seat in Iowa to defend.

Recent polls show that Grimes is trailing McConnell by an average of 5 points. Massively boosting party spending on her campaign when independent handicappers view her as a long shot could attract criticism — especially from sitting senators worried about their own races.

Indeed, Bolton goes on to blind-quote “some operatives” who think it’s nuts. And the smart money folk would agree: FiveThirtyEight gives McConnell a 84% probability of victory; The Upshot is even more bullish for Mitch at 93% probability of winning.

DSCC folk point to their own polling which shows a closer race. But in reality, you have to figure some of this decision is just to mess with Mitch, and force him to spend more party resources in his own defense than he’d prefer; in effect, making him protect his seat instead of his prospects for the majority leadership. Perhaps he’ll make a mistake in the glare of a closer race, and exhibit some of that personality that has always made him an unpopular figure in Kentucky even as its voters grudgingly keep him in the Senate after he’s bludgeoned yet another opponent with richly financed attack ads.

You cannot completely discount personal animua as a factor in the DSCC’s decision, either. In some respects, messing with Mitch is a self-rewarding endeavor.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.