Democrats look to demonize GOP leader

Democrats want to flip the script on Republicans by using Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' House to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Republican lawyers brush off Trump's election comments MORE (R-Ky.) as the poster boy for next year’s congressional elections.

They think they can use the self-described “Grim Reaper” in swing races in the same way Republicans have demonized Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Overnight Health Care: New wave of COVID-19 cases builds in US | Florida to lift all coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, bars | Trump stirs questions with 0 drug coupon plan Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds MORE (D-Calif.)  in previous election years.

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McConnell has often flown below the public’s radar with his low-key demeanor, but after two bruising Supreme Court fights over the past three years and the recent accumulation of House-passed bills going nowhere in the Senate, Democrats say using McConnell as a rallying banner can be part of a winning strategy.

“You’ve seen the polls, his numbers are in the tank. I think it can be effective,” Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Pence seeks to boost Daines in critical Montana Senate race This World Suicide Prevention Day, let's recommit to protecting the lives of our veterans MORE (D-Mont.), a former chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said of tying Republican Senate candidates to McConnell next year.

McConnell’s approval rating is the lowest of any congressional leader, standing at only 25 percent, according to a Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey published earlier this year, and 36 percent in his home state of Kentucky, according to a Morning Consult survey conducted during the first quarter of 2019.

Democrats argue McConnell has largely shut down legislative activity in the Senate, and that point should be raised as an argument against GOP incumbents like Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Poll: 57 percent of Americans think next president, Senate should fill Ginsburg vacancy On The Trail: Making sense of this week's polling tsunami MORE (Maine), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerBreaking the Chinese space addiction Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error Billionaire who donated to Trump in 2016 donates to Biden MORE (Colo.) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisOvernight Energy: Trump officials finalize plan to open up protected areas of Tongass to logging | Feds say offshore testing for oil can proceed despite drilling moratorium | Dems question EPA's postponement of inequality training On The Trail: Making sense of this week's polling tsunami Feds say offshore testing for oil can proceed despite drilling moratorium MORE (N.C.), who have tried to cultivate independent brands ahead of their 2020 races.

“There’s a lot of frustration,” Tester added. “We haven’t really voted. We haven’t debated on hardly anything. We haven’t voted on much other than on judges and a few [executive branch] noms.”

Making a Senate or House race a referendum on the Democratic leader — whether former Sen. Tom Daschle (S.D.) in the early 2000s, former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Supreme Court vacancy — yet another congressional food fight Trump seeks to turn around campaign with Supreme Court fight On The Trail: Battle over Ginsburg replacement threatens to break Senate MORE  (Nev.) during the Obama years or Pelosi over the past decade — has been a go-to move in the GOP’s political playbook.

When Tester faced a tough reelection last year in a Republican-leaning state, his opponent Matt Rosendale — and surrogates such as Donald Trump Jr.Don John Trump'Tiger King' star Joe Exotic requests pardon from Trump: 'Be my hero please' Zaid Jilani discusses Trump's move to cancel racial sensitivity training at federal agencies Trump International Hotel in Vancouver closes permanently MORE — talked about Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Cruz blocks amended resolution honoring Ginsburg over language about her dying wish MORE (D-N.Y.) as much if not more than they did Tester.

It’s a strategy Republicans have used over and over to divide moderate Democrats and swing voters.

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Now it’s Democrats who want to make McConnell a wedge issue to split Republican incumbents with independent reputations, such as Collins in Maine, from swing voters.

More than a year out from Election Day, they’re working overtime to portray McConnell as the poster boy for Washington gridlock.

The Ditch Mitch Fund, a Democratic-aligned group that is targeting McConnell for defeat in 2020, announced last week that it raised more than $1 million during this year’s second fundraising quarter.

McConnell, 77, will be running for his seventh Senate term in 2020.

Democrats say their mission is made easier by the fact that McConnell has embraced his role as a Senate roadblock, describing himself as the “Grim Reaper” of liberal legislation.

“He has embraced his ‘Grim Reaper’ image in a way that makes it pretty easy for Democrats to use that as a rallying cry in a campaign,” said a former Senate Democratic leadership aide.

“Because he’s been so effective at gridlock, he’s been a big part of driving the conversation on changing the way that Washington works that you’re seeing play out in the presidential primary,” the aide said, noting that McConnell and his tactics were a prominent point of discussion in the first Democratic presidential debate.

McConnell told reporters after the debate, where his name was invoked multiple times by the moderators and candidates, “I was thrilled to dominate the discussion.”

“I couldn’t have been happier about it,” he said of being such a source of frustration for White House hopefuls, many of whom have endorsed progressive proposals like “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal.

Asked about Democrats trying to make him a “boogeyman,” McConnell responded: “I understand that my sin is that I’ve been stopping left-wing agenda items coming out of the House and confirming strict constructionists to the Supreme Court. If that’s my sin, I plead guilty.”

Democratic strategists acknowledge that painting McConnell as the main villain of the 2020 battle for the Senate will be made harder by the fact that he’s extremely cautious when speaking publicly and less likely to make gaffes than Reid or Pelosi.

For example, Republicans repeatedly hammered Democrats in past elections for Pelosi’s inartfully expressed statement that Congress had to pass ObamaCare in order to find out what was in it.

Schumer often highlights the backlog of House-passed bills and regularly criticizes McConnell for turning the Senate into a “legislative graveyard.”

A press release put out by Schumer’s office Friday introducing the weekly Democratic address by Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.) hit McConnell for burying Democrats’ Healthy MOM Act, which would guarantee affordable health care coverage to women during pregnancy.

“A graveyard in Leader McConnell’s Senate. No senator has been allowed to vote on one of their amendments for months. This is simply not how the Senate is supposed to be,” Schumer said on the floor shortly before the July 4 recess.

McConnell’s allies argue that Democrats’ attempts to pin congressional dysfunction on McConnell are pure politics and disingenuous.

“I’d like to hear anyone make the argument that McConnell isn’t one of the most effective legislative leaders in modern American history. Republicans know it, Democrats know it, and this brings us to a challenge so profound that it lends an air of unreality to the entire Democratic presidential primary,” conservative columnist David French wrote in the National Review after the Democratic debate.

Democrats have tried to highlight McConnell’s tight grip on the Senate floor by regularly asking for consent agreements to pass bills they believe have broad public support, such as the Election Security Act, which would provide for backup paper ballots and election security grants to states.

Republicans blocked an attempt by presidential candidate Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE (D-Minn.) to call it up for a vote before the July 4 recess.

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocratic senator calls for 'more flexible' medical supply chain to counter pandemics The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Don't expect a government check anytime soon GOP chairman to release interim report on Biden probe 'in about a week' MORE (D-Conn.), a Schumer ally, said, “I do think that people are going to ask questions why all this legislation goes to die in the Senate.”

Inactive legislation in the Senate sent over from the House includes a package of campaign fundraising, ethics and election reform provisions known as H.R. 1, expanded background checks for firearm sales, the Paycheck Fairness Act, a net neutrality bill and several measures addressing the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act.

“Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans seem to care much more about the gun lobby, the insurance lobby and the oil lobby than they do about kids and consumers,” Murphy said. “People know that the House is trying and the Senate isn’t on a bunch of issues and the more that dynamic plays out, the more it matters for the elections.”