Debt-limit Vote Puts Senate Republican Leader McConnell In Hot Seat

For Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, a vote to end debate over raising the U.S. debt ceiling on Wednesday was much more than a vote to leave Washington before a snowstorm arrived.

It earned him the wrath of his party's vocal and influential right wing, and it could have implications for the Senate minority leader's re-election campaign in Kentucky.

The vote, in which he was joined by 11 other Republican senators, came as McConnell is trying to appeal to conservative voters in Kentucky to fend off a primary challenge from Matt Bevin, a Tea Party-aligned Republican. And it was a sign of defiance against influential outside groups trying to push him further to the political right less than half a year after a government shutdown and the last debt ceiling fight.

"This vote couldn't have come at a worse time for Mitch McConnell," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, who advised Republican John McCain's 2008 presidential bid. O'Connell noted that the campaign ahead of the May 20 Kentucky Senate primary was moving into high gear.

Still, independent political groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund are mobilizing supporters to ensure he does not even get past the primary.

"They want Mitch McConnell out of there, but his standing looks pretty good. His biggest worry is Grimes, and this vote doesn't hurt him against her," O'Connell said.

Read more from Gabriel Debenedetti at Reuters

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