WASHINGTON – Kevin McLaughlin is one of those D.C. political operatives who quietly moves mountains behind a desk on Capitol Hill for 14 hours a day for two solid years and then finds himself unemployed after Election Day.
The Edina native is deputy executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the campaign arm for the Senate Republicans. He had essentially one charge from 2014 to 2016: Keep the upper chamber in Republican hands.
From his gray-and-white office bedecked with Minnesota garb, McLaughlin worked relentlessly. He conducted polls. He watched countless political campaign ads. He raised money (the NRSC raised about $120 million in the past two years. The Democrats raised about $30 million more.) He helped campaigns with messages that appealed to voters. He focused on research. Sometimes he even told candidates what not to say.
And his toiling paid off: Depending on final results of an exceedingly tight Louisiana Senate race, the Republicans are presiding over 51 or 52 seats and the Democrats have 46 or 47 until 2018.
“It’s a mandate to govern. I think we’ll do good things. I think we’ll do big things,” said McLaughlin, 42, and a graduate of the University of St. Thomas.
“I think you’ll see the repeal of Obamacare. … I just think that [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell wants to govern,” he said. “[Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer wants to govern. Trump wants to govern. The House wants to govern. It’s a good place to start.”
Asked how it feels to have presided over one of the biggest Republican sweep years in modern history, McLaughlin chuckled and noted that he didn’t start out with an easy map to victory.
“There’s nothing more motivating than people telling you you can’t do something,” he said. “In the beginning of this cycle, it wasn’t if we were going to lose, it was how many seats are we going to lose, it was how quickly our majority is going to be gone.”
On Trump’s win, he said he is not surprised after staring at polling numbers across the country for the past two months: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s favorability and likability numbers were low.
“Everyone here [in D.C.] thought it was a foregone conclusion [that she would win],” he said. “But the data didn’t match up with everyone’s conclusions.”
He still thinks the Republican Party needs to study how they secured such big victories in the election and figure out how to build on that for the next two and four years.
“It’s better to be us than them right now,” he said of Democrats. “But you know we have to kind of sort out what exactly happened as well and what it all means. I think it’s going to be really important.”
McLaughlin says his Minnesota roots taught him “perseverance and hard work and trying to be positive.”
“When you’re faced with that kind of a map, you draw back to the kinds of things that comfort you and, to me, I drew back to home,” he said.
On his pending unemployment, McLaughlin said he is looking forward to some down time with his family to figure out what to do next, noting Washington will be an exciting time for his party next year.
“First of all, I’d like to have about four margaritas and not think about anything for a while,” he said.