Politics

In Bed At A Reasonable Hour: Mitch McConnell's Election Night Extravaganza

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When the crowd at Mitch McConnell's election party first learned their candidate had won a sixth term in the Senate, the reaction was somewhat less than euphoric. A few yelps of excitement erupted here and there, but it seemed as if no one wanted to stand out by making a fuss. It took a few minutes, but the cheers eventually coalesced into something resembling a roar.

It was a decidedly understated bunch. Men in blazers with prep school haircuts had been mingling with demure women sporting bleach-blond helmet hairdos. Many of their children -- themselves seemingly straight out of a Crewcuts catalog -- noshed on complimentary bags of popcorn.

There were flashes of eclecticism, like the two young men toting a sign reading "COME AT ME BRO" featuring a picture of McConnell holding out his arms. Otherwise, the room felt less like a raucous, eardrum-shattering political celebration and more like history's rowdiest Presbyterian church mixer.

Up on the stage, a slew of speakers delivered boilerplate speeches praising McConnell and thanking campaign workers. Kentucky's other Republican senator, Rand Paul, delivered the most brilliantly literal line of the entire 2014 election season:

"Thank you, Kentucky! We couldn't have done it without you!"

Then, to booming -- if not quite thunderous -- applause, McConnell, the next Senate majority leader, took the stage. "The voters said we can have real change in Washington and that's what I plan to deliver," McConnell told supporters. But the evening and its revelers embodied McConnell's campaign to convince voters they didn't need flash and style -- they needed a 30-year Senate veteran who's as traditional as the repp ties sported by many of the evening's guests.

Throughout his campaign, McConnell gave voters ample reminders that he was not a flashy candidate like his opponent, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

While Grimes honed razor-sharp zingers ("If Mitch McConnell were a TV show, he’d be ‘Mad Men’ -- treating women unfairly, stuck in 1968 and ending this season!”), McConnell often appeared stiff and uncomfortable, smiling with such middling success that "McConnelling" -- literally the act of smiling awkwardly -- became a meme.

While Grimes hosted political celebrities like Bill and Hillary Clinton and garnered donations from Hollywood A-listers like Ben Affleck and Tom Hanks, McConnell held events with Lee Greenwood, of "Proud To Be An American" fame. “He’s gonna be the man,” Greenwood exclaimed to the Louisville Courier-Journal about McConnell.

Ultimately, it was the down-to-business lure of having one of Washington's most influential legislators represent them that likely attracted moderate Republicans and undecideds to McConnell's camp.

"I think a lot of people in Kentucky understand the relevance of voting for the guy that could be in charge of the Senate," said Steve Robertson, chairman of the state Republican Party.

That sentiment was echoed by Damon Thayer, majority leader of the Kentucky state senate. "We have arguably the best one-two punch of senators in the United States Senate," said Thayer, referring to McConnell and Paul, who is widely expected to run for president in 2016. "People don't want to give that up for a back-bencher."

Earlier in the day, in Louisville's middle-class Highland neighborhood, moderate and independent voters expressed a desire to hold onto McConnell's clout in the Senate. Even some Democrats admitted that the lure of McConnell's leadership status was hard to deny.

"I like his experience. He's going to be the most powerful man in the Republican Party," said Geoff Snyder, a youth development professional who has supported Democrats, including Rep. John Yarmuth, who represents Louisville in the House.

Back at McConnell's election party, the muted revelry continued. A selection of lively, if somewhat stale, country music emanated from the sound system, occasionally interrupted by screenings of McConnell's campaign commercials and features. Off to the side, a group of older men fiddled with their smartphones.

"Have you gone on the YouTube?" one asked in an admittedly extreme example of the crowd's somewhat hidebound ways.

"Haven't even heard of it!" the other replied.

Asked if he would have a celebratory drink, the first man waved his hand dismissively. "I gotta get home tonight!" he exclaimed.

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