On Monday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell huddled with a few top aides at the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s Capitol Hill headquarters — but the 2018 midterms weren’t on the agenda.
Instead, they pored over plans for McConnell’s own far-off 2020 reelection campaign.
For 90 minutes, McConnell, his chief of staff Phil Maxson, state director Terry Carmack, and political adviser Josh Holmes talked about the political landscape back home in Kentucky and gamed out how the campaign would be staffed and structured.
The early discussions, which were detailed by more than a half-dozen of McConnell’s closest advisers and allies, reflects the leader’s long-held penchant for intensive — some would say obsessive — preparedness and planning.
Yet it also underscores a stark reality confronting the Kentucky Republican. At a time when anti-establishment sentiment is roiling the party, the 76-year-old McConnell, who this week became the longest-serving Senate Republican leader in history, has a target on his back and is taking no chances.
Polling has shown the leader’s approval ratings lagging in his home state, and there is the ongoing threat of a primary challenge.
“You have to start laying the groundwork really early,” said Billy Piper, a former McConnell chief of staff who remains an outside adviser. “He lives by the motto you can start too late, but you can never start too early. And that probably gets more true with each passing cycle.”