McConnell vs. Grimes: Let's get ready to rumble
Sen. Mitch McConnell released a video Tuesday bashing Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
July 2nd, 2013
03:12 PM ET
10 months ago

McConnell vs. Grimes: Let's get ready to rumble

(CNN) - It's game on in Kentucky, in what could end up being the most expensive and nasty 2014 Senate race in the country.

One day after Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who many in the Democratic party consider their best hope to unseat Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in next year's midterm elections, announced that she'll challenge the longtime GOP senator, and the emails from both sides are flying.

"Alison Lundergan Grimes stood proudly at the Democratic National Convention to nominate Barack Obama, who is now following through on his 2008 promise to destroy the coal industry in essence declaring a war on the state of Kentucky and the middle class families who call it home," declared National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Brad Dayspring, in an email Tuesday morning.

It's part of a strategy by national Republicans and the McConnell campaign to tie Grimes to President Barack Obama, who lost Kentucky by 23 percentage points in last November's election.

"The fact that Mitch McConnell chooses to play politics on behalf of special interests while allowing student loan rates to double on more than 123,000 Kentucky students is exactly the kind of dysfunction and partisanship that's earned him the title of least popular Senate incumbent in the country," responded Justin Barasky, a spokesman at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in an email to reporters a few hours later.

His email also described the five-term McConnell as "the walking, talking embodiment of everything that's wrong with Washington."

The Democrats strategy is just as clear as their Republican counterparts. They want to make this contest all about Mitch McConnell and his three decades in the nation's capital.

"If the race is about Barack Obama, we lose. But Democrats will have the resources to make this a race about McConnell, and if it is, we win," says a Democratic strategist with experience in Kentucky, who asked for anonymity to speak more freely.

Starting in March, when actress and activist Ashley Judd announced that she would not challenge McConnell, Grimes came under pressure to announce her intentions one way or another, with some national Democrats touting her as a top potential candidate.

Grimes, 34, a Lexington attorney who cruised to victory in 2011 as Kentucky secretary of state, is the daughter of a former Kentucky Democratic party chairman with close ties to former President Bill Clinton.

Even before she announced her candidacy Monday, Grimes had already come under attack, both by an internet ad put out by the McConnell campaign that poked fun at the amount of time she was taking to make a decision, and by a pro-McConnell independent group that went up with an ad that called her "Obama's cheerleader in Kentucky."

McConnell, 71, is infamous for taking the attack to his political opponents, and he quickly welcomed Grimes to the race by linking her to the president.

"Accepting the invitation from countless Washington liberals to become President Obama's Kentucky candidate was a courageous decision by Alison Lundergan Grimes and I look forward to a respectful exchange of ideas," said McConnell in a statement.

And there was a similar message from the NRSC.

"Kentuckians have absolutely no reason to send Alison Lundergan Grimes to Washington to help pass the policies of a President whom they adamantly oppose and to elect a liberal Senate Leader who declared, 'coal makes us sick,'" said NRSC Executive Director Rob Collins.

"She worked to put him in office. She worked to get him re-elected. You can't de-link the two," a Republican source with knowledge of Bluegrass politics told CNN.

A top Grimes adviser says that strategy won't work.

"Anyone who knows Alison Lundergan Grimes knows that she's her own person. I don't think that Sen. McConnell's trickery will work. Kentucky voters won't buy into those false attacks," Jonathan Hurst, a senior Grimes political adviser, told CNN.

Republicans also attacked Grimes for her Monday announcement. The subject line of Dayspring's daily morning email from the NRSC was "Worst Launch Ever."

And McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton added that "we hate to see someone flounder so badly, so we decided to give Alison a helping hand," in an email premiering a web video that mocked Grimes announcement.

Democrats were quick to point out that the McConnell video misspelled the senator's name. The McConnell campaign said the spelling was just as quickly corrected.

The Grimes campaign says Monday's announcement was not a rollout.

"Yesterday Alison was simply announcing her intentions to run. I'm certain when we do our rollout, you will see that this will be a top tier campaign and we will have the most professional organization in the state," responded Hurst.

In his five Senate elections, McConnell has only once topped 55% of the vote, and Democrats, touting polls that suggest a close contest, consider McConnell vulnerable. But he has a large war chest, with $8.6 million cash on hand at last check. McConnell raised $20 million for his 2008 re-election, a cash haul that he's expected to top this time around.

The Democratic strategist says Grimes and her allies can stay competitive when it comes to the battle for campaign cash: "You cannot overestimate the desire among Democrats to defeat McConnell. There is nothing that unites Democrats more than wanting to beat McConnell. He's sitting on a mountain of money, and I'm sure he's going to raise millions more, but McConnell's going to need it because Democrats are going to have the resources to take him out."

The ad wars in the race started even before McConnell had an opponent. Pro-Democratic groups already went up with ads earlier this spring against McConnell.

Two weeks ago Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA announced they were spending $250,000 to go up with TV, radio and digital ads, as well as a new website, to argue that McConnell's been in office too long and that "it's time for a switch."

"Our strategy remains to highlight how after 30 years in Congress, McConnell is out of touch with Kentuckians and he is the symbol of everything that is wrong with Washington," says a source with knowledge of the group's plans. "We plan to continue our campaign using all the tools necessary (paid media, digital media, social media, web presences, etc) between now and the election to hold him accountable."

But the Republican source from Kentucky says that strategy won't work against McConnell.

"He's very different from these other senators who in years past were labeled as too Washington. He goes back to Kentucky every weekend. He knows all the state senators and he knows the party leaders. McConnell is the guy who built Kentucky politics into what it is today."

"There's a reason so many Democrats said no to running against McConnell. He's got universal name ID in the state," added the source.

McConnell's also aired TV commercials. It's extremely rare for an incumbent to go up with spots so early in a campaign cycle, and Grimes charges that McConnell's ads "are based out of fear of losing his 30 year grip on power."

There's a little bit of history that's working in McConnell's favor: Kentucky hasn't sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1992, when Wendell Ford won re-election.

Next year the Democrats will be defending their slim majority in the Senate. They currently hold a 54-46 edge (including two independents who caucus with the party) over the GOP, which they hope to expand to 55-45 following October's special Senate election in New Jersey. But they will be defending 21 of the 35 seats up for grabs in 2014. Kentucky may be one of the few contests where Democrats hope to go offense.

"The Kentucky Senate race might be the most expensive in the country but that doesn't mean it's the most important. There are at least a half-dozen other Senate races that are more competitive and will decide the majority, but Kentucky will probably make the most headlines," says Nathan Gonzales, political editor at the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.

"With the minority leader, a female officeholder, and tens of millions of dollars, the foundation is set for an ugly race in Kentucky," adds Gonzales.

soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. rs

    Mitch has devolved to filibustering his on bills. All Grimes has to do is to make sense to win.

    July 2, 2013 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  2. Malory Archer

    beaker and the wingnuts are TERRIFIED, which is odd as KY is too backwards and regressive to vote for a Dem. That goes double if the Dem happens to be of the "uppity female who doesn't know her place" type.

    July 2, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  3. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    The McObstruction slime and smear machine is in full swing. Time for you to go turdblossom. No one cares about McObstruction's name recognition in KY. We will do everything in our power to make sure that he is unseated.

    July 2, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  4. Malory Archer

    rs

    Mitch has devolved to filibustering his on bills. All Grimes has to do is to make sense to win.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    If only it were that simple. KY is far too backwards and regressive to vote for a Dem. That goes double if the Dem happens to be of the "uppity female who doesn't know her place" variety.

    July 2, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  5. Thomas

    Mitch McConnell will win , his largest campaign contributor is China .

    They don't want to lose there guy in DC .

    July 2, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  6. Wake up People!

    Unfortunately they are so backwards in KY, this incompetent could still get back in.

    My apologies to any Kentuckians who don't fit into this category.

    July 2, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  7. The REAL Truth...

    While I wish her the best, it's unlikely that KY has the intelligence to decipher what's best for them, given Mitch's focus on coal and his complete lack of progress in the last 5 yrs ...unless you call blaming Obama for everything the GOP left him in 2008 as progress.

    July 2, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  8. Gurgyl

    Alison–go get that old nasty idiotic coot. I shall come there to canvas for you.... Good luck. That nasty GOP thug needs to go. It as simple as that.

    July 2, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  9. Jinx9to88

    If there is a god, please let this women win!!! I am sick and tired of seeing Mitch McConnell, with the face only a turtle can love.

    July 2, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  10. Lynda/Minnesota

    "The Democrats strategy is just as clear as their Republican counterparts. They want to make this contest all about Mitch McConnell and his three decades in the nation's capital."

    I am not sure why KY voters are so fond of Mitch McConnell. My guess is it's because he isn't a Democrat.
    Beyond that ... ?

    As it is, I'm not going to lose sleep over Mitch McConnell. He isn't worth it, one way or another.

    July 2, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  11. Jinx9to88

    Kentucky voters are just like South Carolina voters in letting Sanford back is plain dumb. I guess Mitch and Kentucky are made for each other. This filibustered his own idea, what a dope!!! The GOP must be sooooo proud. LMAO

    July 2, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  12. Rudy NYC

    Got coal? One day the people of Kentucky are going to realize that their most loyal customers are the folks in their backyards still grilling with charcoal. Big box hardware stores are moving away from charcoal grills. Soon the only grills being sold will be the gas grills. I guess that's gonna be Pres. Obama's fault, too.

    July 2, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  13. PJ

    Kentucky is such a beautiful State. We loved visiting it and seeing the blue grass, beautiful horses and white
    rail fences.
    All States have their beauty, I just wonder if those idiots in Washington ever stop to look (smell the roses,
    so to speak), at the land they represent. They don't seem to care much about the people.

    July 2, 2013 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  14. John

    Mitch McConnell, haven't they embalmed him yet? He should be pickled in a jar in some museum of oddities.

    July 2, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  15. ja

    three decades, move over God didn't stop with mitch, three decades is the biggest part of the problem with washington

    July 2, 2013 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  16. Jinx9to88

    Does this mean Mitch will have to debate at some point? Maybe he will try to filibuster the debate. This is gonna be hilarious.

    July 2, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  17. Ron L

    Mitch McConnell is KNOWN as one of the politicians who LOVES to distract voters by talking about what his opponent MAY do if they win instead of what he HAS or WILL do if he wins. As an independent voter I find him to be a TRUE politician who is more interested in the POWER than in doing what is right for the people of Kentucky or the rest of the United States. NEWS FLASH people of Kentucky, coal is OLD TECHNOLOGY this means if your political leaders are smart they would be pushing you toward the future not living in the past. Frankly I don't think it is good for ANYONE Democratic, Republican, or Independent to be in office over 20 years. It CORRUPTS their values and they begin to focus too much on winning the next election and less on doing the right thing!! Just watch what type of campaign he runs, he will NOT focus on what he has accomplished instead he will attempt to make Ms. Grimes seem like a pawn of the President even though there is absolutely no proof of it. His game is fear, distrust and obstruction. Kentucky (and any other state) deserves better.

    July 2, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  18. Ron L

    By the way...I don't live in the state but I will be sending money to Ms. Grimes campaign.

    July 2, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  19. Steveo

    Funny how the same few who boldly declared how "backward and regressive Kentucky is to vote for a Dem" are the same folks who don't mind how the left coast and the Northeast continually votes in liberals! See! It works both ways!

    July 2, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  20. Steveo

    @ja

    three decades, move over God didn't stop with mitch, three decades is the biggest part of the problem with washington
    -------------
    So does that mean you are equally concerned with Dingle, a DEM who has been in DC for 57 years?

    July 2, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  21. Not_an_Idiot

    I hope he not only looses, but is SOUNDLY defeated. This way Master Splinter and the rest of the TMNT can have their long lost brother back living with them in the sewers. Eh who am I kidding? He'll just hightail it out of the USA and go to where his money and his wife come from. BTW, no one cares that your wife is Chinese Mitch. They do however care that because of her, you favor Chinese interests and jobs over your own country!

    July 2, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  22. Rudy NYC

    Why should KY re-elect him? Didn't McConnell fail in his number one goal?

    July 2, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  23. just sayin

    "If the race is about Barack Obama, we lose. But Democrats will have the resources to make this a race about McConnell, and if it is, we win," says a Democratic strategist with experience in Kentucky, who asked for anonymity to speak more freely.
    -----

    too funny.... people in the democrat party speaking anonymously so they won't be targeted by the radicals running the party.

    of course the race is about obama. this democrat would be an obama rubber stamp, just like all the rest of them. she'd vote top kill the coal industry and force the democrat's far left agenda down all of our throats, just like obamacare. mcconnell will trounce her. they are delusional if they think they can take his seat.

    July 2, 2013 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  24. NEVER to VOTE REPUBLICAN again

    We need term limits!

    July 2, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  25. truth hurts but reality bites

    Democrats must have tens of millions of dollars to waste again. I'm sure they expect the unions to empty the pockets of their membership to fund these failed attempts. Democrats are going to be in real trouble with 9 of their Senators in red states. They money may be better spent there. They have very little chance of winning in Kentucky.

    July 2, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
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