McConnell says Republicans may not win Senate control, citing 'candidate quality'

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WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday downplayed expectations of Republicans capturing control of the Senate in the fall elections, describing “candidate quality” as an important factor.

“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different — they're statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” he said in Florence, Kentucky, at a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce luncheon when asked about his projection for the 2022 election.

“Right now, we have a 50-50 Senate and a 50-50 country, but I think when all is said and done this fall, we’re likely to have an extremely close Senate, either our side up slightly or their side up slightly.”

Even though history strongly favors the party out of power — in this case the GOP — to make gains in midterm races, McConnell has long worried that subpar candidates could play into Democrats' hands.

While he didn't mention any names, there are examples across the country.

In Pennsylvania's open Senate race, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed its rating Thursday from "toss up" to "lean Democrat" as GOP nominee Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor, struggles against Democrat John Fetterman, the state's lieutenant governor, who leads in recent polls.

Apart from Oz, Republicans have nominated numerous first-time candidates backed by former President Donald Trump in states such as Georgia, Arizona and Ohio to run against seasoned Democratic politicians. The Senate Leadership Fund, a group aligned with McConnell, recently bought $28 million worth of airtime in Ohio to support Republican nominee J.D. Vance.

The Republican Party establishment also failed to recruit preferred candidates in other states, like New Hampshire.

McConnell may be feeling déjà vu from 2010 and 2012 when his party fell short of capturing control of the chamber in part due to weak candidates such as Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada and Todd Akin in Missouri.

Despite their woes with candidates, Republicans still have opportunities to add to their ranks. They need a net gain of just one seat to seize control of the Senate from the Democrats and effectively gain veto power over President Joe Biden's legislative agenda and nominees for top administration positions and judgeships.