Democrats winced and grimaced in February when Progress Kentucky, a liberal political action committee dedicated to defeating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), let fly some tweets suggesting that McConnell might be gay and his Taiwan-born wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, could be helping send U.S. jobs to China through her husband. On Thursday, when local Democrats said Progress Kentucky was responsible for the covertly — possibly illegally — taped McConnell strategy session published in Mother Jones, it was the last straw.
i do owe an apology to senator mcconnell for not being willing to believe that adult humans would be as idiotic as ProgressKy
— Alex Pareene (@pareene) April 12, 2013
"It's worth stating that we don't know for sure that Progress Kentucky produced the tape or is involved in any way," says Alex Seitz-Wald at Salon. One of the group's co-founders fingered in the Feb. 2 recording, Shawn Reilly, denies responsibility, pinning the blame on fellow co-founder Curtis Morrison, who left Progress Kentucky in March after the Elaine Chao debacle. Morrison isn't saying anything to the press. "But there's something important you should know about Progress Kentucky: No one took its members very seriously in Kentucky, even before the slurs or the secret tape."
With good reason, say Evan McMorris-Santoro and Ruby Cramer at BuzzFeed. "It's probably possible for a political group to be worse at accomplishing its core mission than Progress Kentucky is, but it's difficult to imagine how." In the span of just a few months, the group focused on defeating McConnell "has instead helped the Republican incumbent deflect his low approval rating and conservative critics by subjecting McConnell to comically incompetent political attacks." National Democrats "have their jaws on the floor."
The Daily Caller's Will Rahn tweets what many Democrats are thinking:
Are we sure Progress Kentucky isn't a Republican front? dailycaller.com/2013/04/11/pro…
— Will Rahn (@willrahn) April 11, 2013
Is it really possible that Progress Kentucky is, as Seitz-Wald says, the "worst super PAC ever" not out of gross incompetence but because they are, in essence, political double-agents? Certainly "some Democrats whisper behind the scenes (a better word is 'hope') that it must to be a front set up by McConnell to make him look good and Democrats look terrible," say BuzzFeed's McMorris-Santtoro and Cramer.
You could make that case, I suppose. The recording of the McConnell strategy session — whether or not it was illegal — is embarrassing, but not damaging enough to commit political seppuku over. And the tape was released after the focus of the conversation, Judd, had decided not to run. Then there's the fact that the group, while great at generating McConnell-friendly headlines, appears either unable or uninterested in raising money.
"Last election cycle, in which $6 billion was spent by candidates and outside groups, Progress Kentucky raised $1,005," says Salon's Seitz-Wald. "They spent $18. Yes, you read that right."
But for the theory to be true, Progress Kentucky would have to be a pretty deep-cover operation. Local Kentucky politics site Page One is running a series on the "dark" past of Shawn Reilly, whom it describes as a "Democratic Party operative." And Reilly is involved enough that he was a delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Curtis Morrison is a local journalist and blogger.
Unfortunately for Democrats, Progress Kentucky is probably closer to the Three Stooges than a stooge for McConnell. The idea that the group is secretly working for the GOP is "wishful thinking on the part of Democrats," Scott Jennings, chairman of the pro-McConnell PAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, tells BuzzFeed. But he is sympathetic to the other party's desire to move "as far away from these people as possible." Progress Kentucky is made up of "morons," and "I don't know how to measure exactly how badly they've damaged Democratic chances in this race, but it is at least a bushel or a barrelful."