By: ARJUN SINGH, CONTRIBUTOR | November 16, 2022
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been reelected the Leader of the Senate Republican Conference after a last-minute challenge from his colleague, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, on Wednesday. McConnell won the support of 37 members of the conference to continue as leader of the Senate GOP, a role he has held since 2007. He will continue as the Senate Minority Leader in the 118th Congress after Republicans failed to oust Democrats from the Senate majority in this year’s midterm elections.
McConnell had been challenged by Sen. Rick Scott, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, for the job after Scott announced on Tuesday, during a luncheon with other GOP Senators, that he would do so. The move, part of a long-running feud between Scott and McConnell, caught many members of the conference by surprise.
The McConnell-Scott feud stems from a dispute over the funding of battleground Senate candidates in this year’s midterm election. McConnell’s affiliated Super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), raised and spent over $250 million this electoral cycle to elect Republicans, and was the top outside spender (i.e., not contributing directly to candidate committees, but spending independently to influence the race) on Senate elections in the United States. The SLF withdrew funding from Republican Senate candidates in New Hampshire and Arizona, which were widely seen as critical-to-win races for the GOP to gain a majority in the Senate. Both Republican candidates, Blake Masters in Arizona and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, lost to Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly and Maggie Hassan even as pre-election polls showed them in close races. The SLF also spent significant amounts of money in Alaska, seeking to defend Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a close McConnell ally who was being challenged by Republican candidate Kelly Tshibaka in the general election under the state’s new Ranked Choice Voting system. Tshibaka and the Alaska Republican Party later criticized the SLF for wasting resources on opposing her candidacy.
McConnell had openly mused that “there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate,” in an appearance in Kentucky in August, which was widely reported. He lamented that “candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” which was interpreted as criticism of former President Donald Trump, who endorsed candidates who won GOP Senate primaries in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Nevada yet, later, lost the general election. Shortly after McConnell’s comments, Scott acknowledged in an interview with Politico that he had a “strategic disagreement” with McConnell about funding races, and later implicitly criticized him for “treasonous…trash-talking our Republican candidates” in an op-ed for the Washington Examiner.
Scott’s bid to become Senate Republicans’ leader had been endorsed by Republican Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, while Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said that he does not support McConnell’s continuance in office, though he didn’t expressly endorse Scott. Other GOP Senators, such as Ted Cruz of Texas, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah, had called for the vote to be delayed until after Georgia’s Senate runoff election.
McConnell and Scott’s offices did not immediately respond to a request for comment.