Early life and education
McConnell was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama to Julia Shockley and Addison Mitchell McConnell,. His official U.S. Senate Web site biography omits his Alabama birthplace, stating that he was "Born on February 20, 1942, and raised in south Louisville". McConnell was challenged early in life when he was stricken with polio at age two:
"When I was two years old, I came down with an infection that felt a lot like the flu. But after the fever passed, my left leg had gone lame. For two years my mother put me through a physical therapy regimen taught to her by the doctors at the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation, founded by President Roosevelt in Warm Springs, Georgia. From age two to four, I was not allowed to walk or run. But after two years of my mother's care, I was able to have a normal life. A lot of kids at that time, in the 1940s, weren't so lucky. Some were paralyzed for life. Some were sentenced to the iron lung. Many died."Eradication of polio as a scourge was one of the premier successes of the American government; it began under Roosevelt and continued for decades under the Center for Disease Control. McConnell was raised in southern Louisville, Kentucky, where he attended the duPont Manual High School, and in 1964 he graduated with honors from the University of Louisville College of Arts and Sciences. He was student body president and a member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity. He graduated in 1967 from the University of Kentucky College of Law, where he was elected the president of the Student Bar Association.
McConnell became a member of the 100th Training Unit, U.S. Army Reserve, in Louisville, Kentucky during his final semester of law school, and he reported for his six months of active service, primarily for training, in July 1967. After induction at Fort Knox, Kentucky, McConnell was released early from his active-duty military service in August 1967.
Career prior to the Senate
In March 1967, during his final semester of law school, McConnell gained experience on Capitol Hill as an intern under Senator John Sherman Cooper, later as an assistant to Senator Marlow Cook, and was a Deputy Assistant Attorney General under President Gerald R. Ford. From 1978 until his election to the Senate, he was the Jefferson County Judge/Executive, the top political office in Jefferson County, which includes Louisville.
Initial election and subsequent re-elections
In 1984, McConnell ran against two-term Democratic Senator Dee Huddleston. The election race wasn't decided until the last returns came in, and McConnell won by a thin margin — less than one-half of a percentage point. McConnell was the only Republican Senate challenger to win that year, despite Ronald Reagan's landslide victory in the presidential election. Part of McConnell's success came from a series of television campaign spots called "Where's Dee", which featured a group of bloodhounds trying to find Huddleston, implying that Huddleston's attendance record in the Senate was less than stellar. It is likely that he was helped by Ronald Reagan's 21-point win in Kentucky that year. His campaign bumper stickers and television ads asked voters to "Switch to Mitch".
In 1990, McConnell faced a tough reelection contest against former Louisville mayor Harvey I. Sloane, winning by 4.5 points. He soundly defeated Steve Beshear in 1996, even as Bill Clinton narrowly carried the state. In keeping with a tradition of humorous and effective television ads in his campaigns, McConnell's campaign ran television ads in 1996 that warned voters to not "Get Besheared" and included images of sheep being sheared. In 2002, he was reelected with the largest majority by a Republican candidate in Kentucky history.
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