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Ok, so by now you're probably familiar about the recorded audio of Senator Mitch McConnell (R. KY) talking to his staff about ways to destroy Ashley Judd and discourage her from running.  Well if don't know, now you know:

On February 2, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the US Senate, opened up his 2014 reelection campaign headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, and in front of several dozen supporters vowed to "point out" the weaknesses of any opponent fielded by the Democrats. "They want to fight? We're ready," he declared. McConnell was serious: Later that day, he was huddling with aides in a private meeting to discuss how to attack his possible Democratic foes, including actor/activist Ashley Judd, who was then contemplating challenging the minority leader. During this strategy session—a recording of which was obtained by Mother Jones—McConnell and his aides considered assaulting Judd for her past struggles with depression and for her religious views.

Last month, Judd announced she wouldn't challenge McConnell, whose reelection campaign could become one of the most watched races of the 2014 cycle (if a serious Democratic opponent emerges). But at the February 2 meeting, McConnell and his team were fixated on Judd. McConnell told his aides that at the early stage of the campaign they had to clobber any potential challenger. Mother Jones, 4/9/13

Here are the videos of that conversation:

I assume most of you have played the, the game Whac-A-Mole?” (Laughter.) This is the Whac-A-Mole period of the campaign…when anybody sticks their head up, do them out.

She's clearly, this sounds extreme, but she is emotionally unbalanced. I mean it's been documented. Jesse can go in chapter and verse from her autobiography about, you know, she's suffered some suicidal tendencies. She was hospitalized for 42 days when she had a mental breakdown in the '90s.

I call it the American anesthesia. You know, I come back to this country. I freak out in airports. The colors, the sounds, all those different ways of packaging the same snack but trying to, you know, make it look like it's distinct and different and convince consumers that they have to have it. I mean all of that. The last time I came home from a trip, I absolutely flipped out when I saw pink fuzzy socks on a rack. I mean, I can never anticipate what is going to push me over the edge.

But in a few weeks, you know, I'm driving along smooth roads and I think nothing of it. I'm, you know, choosing between four different brands of cereal from plastic dispensers so that I don't have to have, you know, ugly, mismatched boxes on my shelf, and I don’t think anything of it.

She is critical…of traditional Christianity. She sort of views it as sort of a vestige of patriarchy. She says Christianity gives a God like a man, presented and discussed exclusively with male imagery, which legitimizes and seals male power, the intention to dominate even if that intention is nowhere visible.

I think too she's clearly sort of anti-sort-of-traditional American family. I think Jesse tracked this down. She described having children as selfish, and she thinks it's unconscionable to breed…She also is critical of, of fathers giving away their daughters in marriage ceremonies. She says it's a common vestige of male dominion over a women's reproductive status when her father gives her away at a wedding.

I still choose the God of my understanding as the God of my childhood. I have to expand my God concept from time to time, and you know particularly I enjoy native faith practices, and have a very nature-based God concept. I'd like to think I'm like St. Francis in that way. Brother Donkey, Sister Bird.

Pretty nasty stuff there.  How did these recordings come into the public?  Well according to McConnell, it's the liberals fault:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell accused the group Progress Kentucky of bugging his campaign office “Nixonian” style after a recording surfaced Tuesday of his aides plotting attacks on possible rival Ashley Judd.

“As you know last month my wife’s ethnicity was attacked by a left-wing group in Kentucky and then apparently they also bugged my headquarters,” McConnell said. “So I think that pretty much sums up the way the political left is operating in Kentucky.”

McConnell (R-Ky.) was referring to Twitter posts by the group Progress Kentucky, which said his wife Elaine Chao, who was the former Labor secretary and born in Taiwan, claimed she shipped jobs to China and asked if the Senate minority leader was “too close to China.”

The group later apologized and removed the tweets. - Politico, 4/9/13

Better watch out liberals because McConnell's team has the FBI on this case:

"We've always said the Left would stop at nothing to attack Sen. McConnell, but Watergate-style tactics to bug campaign headquarters are above and beyond," McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton told ABC News.

"Senator McConnell's campaign is working with the FBI and has notified the local U.S. Attorney in Louisville, per FBI request, about these recordings," Benton said. "Obviously a recording device of some kind was placed in Senator McConnell's campaign office without consent. By whom and how that was accomplished will presumably be the subject of a criminal investigation."

The Senate Minority Leader described the tactics used against him to reporters at the Capitol Tuesday as "quite a Nixonian move."

"This is what you get from the political left in America," McConnell said. "Much like Nixon in Watergate, that is what the political left does these days."

McConnell's office said the FBI is investigating how the senator's campaign office was bugged and who gave the tapes to Mother Jones magazine.

Spokesman Paul Bresson of the FBI told ABC News, "We can confirm that Sen. McConnell's office reported it and we are looking into the matter." - ABC News, 4/9/13

McConnell's campaign is fundraising off this "Nixonian" like moment:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign is raising money off a secret recording of their February strategy meetings — as the Kentucky Republican’s aides reached out to the FBI to investigate it.

“Breaking: Liberals Wiretap McConnell’s Office: Stand with Senator McConnell against the liberal media’s illegal and underhanded tactics,” reads the fundraising page from McConnell’s campaign, referring to the recording that appeared in Mother Jones on Tuesday.

McConnell’s campaign, known as “Team Mitch,” launched a promoted tweet Tuesday morning that sends supporters to a new page on the campaign website where donations can be made.

“The liberal left is exposed for illegally wiretapping our campaign HQ,” the campaign wrote on Twitter. “Stand with Sen. McConnell against this.” - Roll Call, 4/9/13

The best responses to all of this are from the DSCC and Greg Sargent:

DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil responded that McConnell was "desperate to play the victim," and should apologize.

"The DSCC doesn't know if this tape came from a disgruntled Senate staffer who was forced to dig up dirt on their boss' potential opponents or another source, but its content is a clear example of how Mitch McConnell is the living, breathing embodiment of everything that is wrong with Washington. It is beneath the office of Minority Leader to engage in this kind of trivial politics. He should apologize to the millions of Americans who suffer from depression and don't believe it’s a laughing matter." - Huffington Post, 4/9/13
An FBI spokesperson, Jenny Shearer, declined to confirm or deny that the request had been made of the FBI. Typically, in such situations, the agency won’t specify who made such a request, whether it was made, or how seriously it’s being taken. Theoretically, then, a campaign can ask the FBI to investigate in such a situation, and then leak to the press that such a request has been made. Result: A story from an outlet like CNN saying that someone “has been asked” to investigate, with no indication of who did the asking.

We don’t know if that’s what happened in this case, but it’s possible. I asked McConnell’s Senate and campaign offices for clarification; his Senate spokesman, John Ashbrook, referred me to campaign spokesman Jesse Benton, who has yet to reply.

The suggestion by the McConnell campaign that Mother Jones engaged in “Watergate-style tactics to bug campaign headquarters” is intriguing; it constitutes a suggestion that Mother Jones broke the law. To my knowledge, the McConnell campaign didn’t provide CNN with any evidence of this. (The Mother Jones story only says that a “recording” of the strategy session “was obtained by Mother Jones.”) It’s a serious charge, and if it were made without evidence by the campaign of the Senate minority leader — perhaps the most powerful Republican elected official the country — it’s a big deal. - Washington Post, 4/9/13

Mother Jones has stated that they received the taped recording from an anonymous source so Mother Jones at least answered the question on how they obtained the recording.  But McConnell's team refuses to answer any questions about the dirt they were digging up on Judd:
McConnell ignored repeated questions as to whether it was appropriate to consider Judd's mental health or religious beliefs as a campaign tactic, repeating a similar answer three times before cutting off questioning on the subject. Judd, who decided not to challenge McConnell, has written extensively about her bouts with depression, as well as about her religious leanings. - Huffington Post, 4/9/13
But what the recorded audio shows is that McConnell is in constant campaign mode and is worried about 2014:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), center, speaks to the press after the weekly Senate Republicans policy luncheon on March 19, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Before this drama concludes, we should embrace a truth at the heart of this recording: We are in the era of the permanent campaign. At the time the recording was made, the November 2014 election was 21 months away, and McConnell was knee deep in strategy about a woman who hadn't even entered the race (or any previous political contest for that matter). He's a hands-on political operator, sure, but it's not just McConnell who is thinking about the next election. Strategists in both parties say that technological and strategic innovations have moved campaign start dates even earlier than before. The next elections are also at the heart of the big policy debates. The 2014 election is at the center of the gun control debate. The debate over immigration reform is motivated in large measure by Republicans worried about their presidential chances in 2016. - Slate, 4/9/13
But when you're the most unpopular Senator in the country, no wonder McConnell is so worried about the next election:

36% of voters approve of the job McConnell is doing to 54% who disapprove. That -18 net approval is the same as we found in December when he was at 37/55. McConnell gets tepid approval from Republicans (53/34) while meeting with disapproval from most Democrats (23/69) and independents (32/54).

It's just as well for Democrats that Ashley Judd decided not to challenge McConnell. Her popularity declined quite a bit over the last 4 months. In December a plurality of voters had a positive opinion of her at 42/36, but now her favorability numbers are under water at 34/41. The attacks on her clearly took a toll on her image.

The good news for Democrats is that they still have several candidates who poll within striking range of McConnell. Alison Lundergan Grimes, despite having only 50% name recognition, comes within 4 points of McConnell at 45/41. She's gained a little bit of ground on him since our December poll that found him with a 47/40 advantage. And former Congressman Ben Chandler trails McConnell just 46/41. Ed Marksberry, the only announced Democratic candidate in the race at this point, trails the incumbent 46/35.

Given his mediocre numbers with Republican voters, McConnell faces some level of vulnerability even in a primary contest. Just 46% of GOPers say they would like for McConnell to be their candidate again next year, compared to 32% who say they would prefer someone more conservative. McConnell does much better against a named potential foe though, leading freshman House member Thomas Massie 56/18. - PPP, 4/9/13

Hopefully Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergran Grimes (D) will make a decision soon about this race:

Photo by Nancy Taggart.Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democratic candidate for Secretary of State from Lexington, speaks Friday evening to supporters during a campaign reception at HangerÕs Restaurant in Richmond.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) hasn't decided whether to run for Senate in the state, she told a group of Democrats this weekend, but took a veiled jab at her potential opponent, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“I don’t know what the next step is for me, but I can tell you that I’m here tonight because we’ve done it together,” Grimes said at the Nelson County Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Kentucky, according to local news site Channel 2.

“I look forward to what we will do together in the future," she added.

Lundergan Grimes also noted that it was important "to send the right people to Frankfort," and seemed to reference the voting record of both current Kentucky senators, McConnell and Rand Paul (R). - The Hill, 4/8/13

Originally posted to pdc on Wed Apr 10, 2013 at 05:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.

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