Will McConnell’s big campaign cash haul scare off Democrats?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s 2020 re-election campaign raised $2.1 million in the first three months of the year, a record for the veteran senator that puts any potential challengers on notice that he intends to wage an aggressive effort.

Though McConnell doesn’t yet have a Democratic opponent and seems unlikely to face a repeat primary challenger, the Kentucky Republican remains a top target for national Democrats. He not only holds the Senate’s most powerful job, but Democrats still fault him for refusing to have the Senate consider Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court nominee.

The campaign is set to submit its first quarter fundraising data to the Federal Election Commission and will report cash on hand of $5.6 million. Complete figures were not yet available.

“Sen. McConnell has begun this election cycle in a familiar place with strong support and a formidable war chest,” said his campaign manager, Kevin Golden. “This is the strongest fundraising quarter to start a cycle of his career and we intend to keep the momentum rolling.”

Democrats said they were not concerned. “No amount of special interest money will change the fact that Mitch McConnell is deeply unpopular in his home state for working to gut pre-existing conditions coverage and end Medicare and Social Security as we know it,” said Stewart Boss, .Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee national press secretary.

The total raised over the first three months of the fundraising quarter in 2019 by three McConnell entities — McConnell Senate Committee, Bluegrass PAC and McConnell for Majority Leader — is $2.8 million.

The new total tops the then-record $1.8 million McConnell’s Senate committee raised during the first three months of 2013 when it looked likely that he’d face a Republican primary challenger in 2014.

Republican Matt Bevin, who ran against McConnell that year, spent more than $5 million and attracted support from a host of conservative fundraising groups.

McConnell spent more than $10 million to hold off Bevin, who is now governor, and went on to raise nearly $31 million for his 2014 re- election, easily defeating Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who raised nearly $19 million.

Democrats are eager to find a candidate to take on McConnell in 2020, but no top tier challenger has jumped in yet. Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has reached out to Amy McGrath, a Democratic star who lost a Kentucky congressional race in 2018.

Conservatives who viewed McConnell as insufficiently conservative have mostly shied away from taking him on again as he’s earned Trump’s support by prioritizing the president’s judicial nominations, including ensuring that Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court by making it easier for the Republican-dominated Senate to limit debate.

Though never terribly popular in Kentucky, McConnell is a sharp-elbowed competitor and began pulling together a political team last summer that includes Golden, a field representative for McConnell’s 2014 team in eastern Kentucky who oversaw Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn’s successful 2018 Senate campaign.

Lesley Clark works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, covering all things Kentucky for McClatchy’s Lexington Herald-Leader. A former reporter for McClatchy’s Miami Herald, she also spent several years covering the White House.