Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday touted the prospects of three GOP Senate candidates backed by former President Donald Trump, despite the rift between the two Republican leaders.
Mr. McConnell told reporters in his home state Kentucky that he chose to host a Louisville fundraiser for GOP Senate hopefuls Mehmet Oz of Pennsylvania, Rep. Ted Budd of North Carolina and Herschel Walker of Georgia because they “were in critical states and had a good chance of winning.”
Mr. McConnell’s efforts underscored his view that taking back the upper chamber was more important than his run-ins with Mr. Trump. However, it also came after Mr. McConnell recently expressed concern — without mentioning any names — that “candidate quality” could jeopardize the party’s ability to retake the Senate.
Pressed by reporters in Kentucky, he rejected the idea that the event was anything out of the ordinary.
“I do this every August. I had a different set of candidates than last August. This event was scheduled about six weeks ago,” Mr. McConnell said. “I pick out three of our candidates every summer that I think have the best shot at winning and invite them. And I picked these three because I thought they were in critical states and had a good chance of winning.”
All three GOP candidates have struggled with polling and fundraising compared to their Democratic opponents, despite Democrats facing headwinds in midterm elections that historically disfavor the president’s party.
“There’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” Mr. McConnell said earlier this month.
Those remarks prompted Mr. Trump to label him a “pawn for the Democrats” and a call for GOP senators to oust him as their leader.
Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to take control of the Senate which is now split 50-50 between the two parties.
Mr. McConnell said he has “great confidence” in the chances of Mr. Oz, who is running against Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in the race to replace retiring Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican.
“I don’t think I would have had him here if I didn’t think that,” Mr. McConnell said.