McConnell Set To Be Senate Minority Leader

mitch mcconnell
When the new Senate convenes in January, the minority leader will likely be a Kentucky Republican whose killer political instinct once earned him the nickname "Darth Vader."

Mitch McConnell, who currently holds the No. 2 position of whip in the Senate GOP hierarchy, has a reputation of being a shrewd strategist but is best known for his fierce opposition to campaign finance reform.

Republican senators, who lost control of the Senate on Election Day, are to pick their leaders on Nov. 15. McConnell is running unopposed for minority leader. He would succeed retiring Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, who was catapulted into the majority leader's job in 2002 when Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi was ousted from it for commenting favorably about the late Sen. Strom Thurmond's segregationist past.

In contrast to Frist, McConnell has held numerous positions that have prepped him for his new job. In addition to serving as whip, he has chaired the committee that sets Senate rules as well as the committee that recruits and finances GOP Senate candidates.

"In terms of the skills he would bring to the Republican leadership, I think he has greater institutional experience than Bill First," said McConnell's counterpart on the other side of the political aisle, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Half of a Washington power couple, McConnell, 64, is married to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

Utah Republican Sen. Robert Bennett, a close friend of McConnell, said the Kentucky Republican has been methodically laying the groundwork for becoming his party's leader.

"Brick by brick, he built a firewall. So whenever somebody decided they wanted to run, all we had to do was sit down and say to them, 'This is what you're going to have to deal with,"' Bennett said. "One by one, potential opponents said, 'Wait a minute, I don't want to run and lose."'