If Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were to lose his upcoming primary fight against Tea Partier Matt Bevin, or if he lost in the general election to Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, the defeat would be historic.
The New York Times' Nate Cohn thinks he doesn't need to worry. "A McConnell defeat would be all but unprecedented," Cohn writes, focused on the Grimes match-up. It probably makes sense to skip ahead to Grimes, by the way, because McConnell leads Bevin by almost 40 points according to a poll out earlier this week. The primary's in May.
So why doesn't he need to worry about Grimes? Cohn looks at history to make his case. "[T]here is no precedent for a McConnell defeat," he writes. "No senator has lost in a state as favorable as Kentucky when the president represents the other party. And it’s not even close … [s]tates with serious reservations about the incumbent president seem unwilling to dismiss the president’s opponents in the Senate."
Cohn is careful to point out the standard caveats: there's a lot of time left in the race, polls are close, history isn't necessarily predictive. Since 1956, one senator has lost re-election in a state more favorable than Kentucky: Ted Stevens in Alaska, who'd just been convicted of felonies. But Cohn is dealing with decent-sized data set: there are slightly fewer than 100 incumbent senatorial elections over the course of six years, meaning just under 1,900 such contests since the year 1900. The argument that "this hasn't happened before" is a bit more resonant in Senate races than presidential ones.