Joined the US Army Reserve in 1967 but was discharged after six months because of an eye condition.
Was a summer intern for Kentucky GOP Sen. John Sherman Cooper and later worked as an aide to Sen. Marlow Cook, both moderates. He served as assistant attorney general in the Ford administration before returning to Kentucky to be judge executive of Jefferson County in 1978.
Elected to the US Senate in 1984, the only Republican to unseat a Democratic incumbent senator that year.
Garnered a reputation as a tough opponent of limits on campaign spending, which earned him the nickname “Darth Vader” among reformers.
Showed a willingness to compromise over issues such as homeland security and prisoner interrogation after 9/11.
Tilted more conservative after becoming Senate minority leader in 2007, a process that accelerated with the tea party-fueled takeover of the House in 2010. He backed the House’s ban on earmarks and clashed with the White House over the debt ceiling.