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Marlow Cook: Mitch McConnell’s Political Pathfinder

Cook, who was elected in 1968, provided the electoral template for McConnell's path to the Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Cook, who was elected in 1968, provided the electoral template for McConnell's path to the Senate. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Shortly after he got the news that former Sen. Marlow Cook, R-Ky., had died, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke on the floor about the man who showed him the political blueprint to success in Washington.  

“Marlow Cook gave me my first real opportunity in politics, gave me a chance to be a state youth chairman in his successful campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1968,” McConnell said. “He also gave me an important opportunity in government. He won his election, and I came to Washington with him, and I was what they called the chief legislative assistant. I think the term we use now is legislative director.”  

Cook died Thursday at 89 in Sarasota, Fla.  

After working for Cook for two years, McConnell went to the Justice Department before heading back to Kentucky and being elected in 1978 to be judge-executive of Jefferson County. It was right out of Cook’s playbook, one McConnell utilized toward his own successful Senate run in 1984.  

“Launch an improbable campaign for Jefferson County judge executive in your 30s and win. Secure re-election, then launch a bid for U.S. senator. That’s the political path Marlow Cook took, and that’s the exact political path I took as well,” McConnell said.  

McConnell praised Cook for showing that a Republican could win statewide in a commonwealth dominated by Democrats, and noted he was the first Catholic elected statewide in Kentucky.  

“Believe it or not, that was something of an issue back there, back then. Hard to imagine today,” McConnell said.  

Cook assumed and left his Senate seat early.  

Although he was elected in 1968 and not scheduled to be sworn in until the following year when the new class came in, he was appointed to the Senate on Dec. 17 of that year to fill out the remainder of the term vacated by Sen. Thruston Morton. Morton had not been a candidate for re-election and decided to resign his seat on Dec. 16, before his term expired.  

In 1974, after losing his bid for re-election to Democrat Wendell Ford, Cook resigned his seat on Dec. 27, although he wasn’t scheduled to leave office officially until the next month. Much like Cook, Ford was appointed to fill his predecessor’s seat, taking office on Dec. 28 and then being sworn in the following month for the term he was elected to.  

Contact Dick at and follow him on Twitter @jasonjdick.


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