McConnell: GOP presidential nominee must be able to carry 'purple states'

Story highlights

  • McConnell said whoever gets the GOP nomination must be able to carry critical swing states
  • "Unless the nominee for president can carry purple states, he's not going to get elected," McConnell said

Washington (CNN)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who typically refrains from talking about presidential politics, in part because he has four members of his conference running for the GOP nomination, finally uttered a few words Friday about what's important to him in a candidate.

The Kentucky Republican said whoever gets the GOP nomination must be able to carry those critical states that swing back and forth between electing Democrats and Republicans.
"Unless the nominee for president can carry purple states, he's not going to get elected," McConnell told reporters at a year-end news conference on Capitol Hill.
    McConnell made his electoral priorities known when he was asked how he plans to hold the seats of several moderate senators in purple states at a time that Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz are dominating the national political scene and GOP polls.
    "So what I've said about the presidential race -- and this is as far as I'm going to go so I'll save your time peppering me with questions about the presidential race -- we'd like to have a nominee who can carry purple states."
    McConnell said the same theory applies to those Senate seats he's trying to hold and the open seats Republicans are trying to win. He was blunt in saying his party would not make the same mistake as it did in 2012 when several tea party-backed candidates got the GOP nomination in their states and were defeated in the general election. Instead, he said Republicans, who currently have a 54-46 advantage over Democrats, would follow their 2014 model when they won control of the Senate back from Democrats on the strength of more electable candidates.
    "I think the way you have a good election year is to nominate people who can win. What we did in 2014 was that we didn't have any more Christine O'Donnells, Sharron Angles, Richard Mourdocks or Todd Akins. The people who were nominated were electable. That will happen again in 2016. We will not nominate anybody for the United States Senate on the Republican side who is not appealing to a general election audience," McConnell declared.
    Republicans have four incumbents up in purple states: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. McConnell predicted Republicans will be competitive in open seats in Nevada and Florida and in the seat currently held by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, who is running for re-election.
    "So I'm confident we'll have good candidates," he said.
    McConnell added that GOP success in those states -- and in another swing state, Virginia -- are key to the GOP's overall success.
    "Those states are going to decide who the president is and those are also going to decide whether we're in the majority or the other guys are," McConnell said.