Democrats have long despised Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), but they hope he wins his primary race against Matt Bevin because they view him as an easier opponent in 2014.I don't know how representative The Hill's sources are but on the surface, the idea that a wounded McConnell would be easier to beat than a surging Bevin seems reasonable. I've actually had the same thought, especially given McConnell's weak poll numbers. But the more I think about it, the more I think this analysis gives Bevin too much credit—and gives McConnell too little.
Democrats say they hope McConnell will get roughed up in the Kentucky GOP primary but survives because beating a fresh face like Bevin in the general election would be difficult.
This whole question will be moot if Bevin implodes before the primary, but assuming he continues mounting a credible campaign, the nomination battle will come down to a choice between Bevin's argument that McConnell has been in office for too long and isn't conservative enough, and McConnell's argument that he's the guy with the clout to obstruct President Obama's agenda.
Bevin might be a fresh face now, but if he wins, he'll be different candidate than he is today. Instead of the new guy saying McConnell has been around for too long, he'll be the guy who embraced every right-wing fantasy in the playbook. It's not that he's guaranteed to turn himself into Christine O'Donnell, but it's definitely conceivable that he could dig himself the same holes that sunk Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin or Ken Buck. Sure, he might end up being a better nominee than McConnell—but Bevin is a political novice and I don't think he has enough of a track record yet to say definitively whether or not that would be the case.
Meanwhile, if McConnell wins the nomination, he'll emerge stronger than he is today, partly because winning is contagious, but also because the Republican base will rally around him. He'll also have won the primary on an anti-Obama message which isn't the end of the world in state that gave Mitt Romney a 60-38 victory.
To be clear, I'm not saying that I think Bevin would be a weaker nominee than McConnell. I think that at this point, saying which one would be worse is a guessing game. In fact, if you forced me to pick today, I'd pick McConnell. But I have no idea whether I'd make the same choice when Kentucky Republicans head to the polls to select their nominee. The one thing I'm sure of is that I'm glad there's going to be another nine months of this, because the tougher the primary fight, the more likely it is that the candidate who emerges won't be the GOP's best nominee.