By Alexander Bolton - 12/18/15 02:27 PM EST
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellOvernight Healthcare: Dems dig in over Zika funding Business groups ramp up pressure to fill Ex-Im board Senate Dems: No August break without Zika deal MORE (R-Ky.) on Friday warned Republican voters to steer clear of nominating Tea Party candidates who can’t win in next year’s general election.
“The way you have a good election year is to nominate people who can win,” he told reporters during his final Capitol Hill press conference of 2015.
“What we did in 2014 was we didn’t have more Christine O’Donnell’s, Sharron Angles, Richard Mourdocks or Todd Akins. The people that were nominated [last year] were electable,” he said of the last midterm cycle.
“That will happen again in 2016. We will not nominate anybody for the United States Senate on the Republican side who’s not appealing to a general-election audience,” he added.
O’Donnell famously imploded in the 2010 Delaware Senate race when she aired a television ad in which she earnestly assured voters that she was not a witch.
Angle lost in 2010 — the Tea Party wave year — to Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidOvernight Finance: Obama signs Puerto Rico bill | Trump steps up attacks on trade | Dodd-Frank backers cheer 'too big to fail' decision | New pressure to fill Ex-Im board Iowa poll: Clinton up 14 on Trump, Grassley in tight race with Dem Lynch meeting with Bill Clinton creates firestorm for email case MORE (Nev.), a race that many Republicans thought was winnable. She was mocked for suggesting that soaring medical expenses could be addressed through a barter system.
Mourdock defeated longtime incumbent Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in 2012 only to lose deep-red Indiana’s Senate seat to Democratic challenger, now-Sen. Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyOvernight Finance: Trump threatens NAFTA withdrawal | Senate poised for crucial Puerto Rico vote | Ryan calls for UK trade deal | Senate Dems block Zika funding deal Senate Democrats block Zika agreement ahead of recess Post Orlando, hawks make a power play MORE. He stumbled by claiming pregnancy from rape is “something God intended.”
Akin squandered a likely win against Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillThe Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief McCaskill: I wonder if people voting for Trump are embarrassed VA opposes bill aimed at helping vets in mustard gas experiments MORE (D-Mo.) in 2012 after introducing the nation to the term “legitimate rape.”
McConnell said the same standard applies to the presidential race, reiterating a statement he made earlier in the week.
“We’d like to have a nominee who can carry purple states because unless the nominee for president can carry purple states, he’s not going to get elected,” he said.
It was a veiled shot at the GOP presidential front-runners: Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump: 'I’m just flabbergasted’ by Clinton-Lynch meet Trump's new digital strategist quickly leaves campaign GOP megadonor compares Trump to Biblical figures MORE, Ted CruzTed CruzThe Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief Trump to meet with Senate GOP next week Trump camp eyeing Mike Pence for VP: report MORE and Ben Carson.
Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteThe Trail 2016: Meet and greet and grief Clean energy group backs two GOP incumbents Senator calls for pause in accepting Syrian refugees after Istanbul attack MORE (R), who faces a tough race in New Hampshire, has criticized Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the country as “inconsistent with the First Amendment.”
She says she will support the party’s nominee but her political team told CNN last month that the outspoken billionaire could hurt her chances if he’s the GOP standard-bearer.
McConnell has largely avoided commenting on the presidential primary, in which four Senate colleagues are competing.
He has endorsed fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulTrump's new digital strategist quickly leaves campaign Trump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office Trump hires Rand Paul's former digital director: report MORE (R), who helped McConnell in his 2012 reelection race against a Tea Party challenger, but otherwise has steered clear of the race in public.
McConnell did, however, attend a recent dinner hosted by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus where party power brokers discussed the prospect of a brokered presidential convention in Cleveland.
On Friday, McConnell noted the significant overlap between the presidential and Senate battleground maps.
Incumbent Republican senators are running for reelection in Illinois, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin — all potential presidential swing states.
There are also competitive Senate races in Colorado, Florida and Nevada, all of which could go to either party in the battle for the White House.
“We have five incumbents up, four in purple states, one in a blue state. We expect to be competitive in the Nevada open seat, the Colorado seat and the Florida open seat,” McConnell said. “What do all of them except for Illinois have in common? They’re all purple.”
The vacancy in Florida was created by Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioPoll: Rubio holds massive lead in primary Rubio: Turkey attack 'directed' by ISIS Trump: Rivals who don't back me shouldn't be allowed to run for office MORE’s (R) decision to run for president, while the one in Nevada was opened up by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) announced retirement.
“Those states are going to decide who the next president is and those states are also going to decide whether we’re still in the majority or the other guys,” he said.