May 20th, 2014
05:39 AM ET
8 years ago

Mitch McConnell would face biggest challenge yet in Alison Grimes

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (CNN) - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell uses sports metaphors to describe why he should be re-elected and not sacked by Democrat Alison Grimes, who would be Kentucky's first woman senator.

"Change the U.S. Senate and make me the offensive coordinator instead of the defensive coordinator," McConnell said to a small but enthusiastic crowd in Bowling Green.

"Sports fans know you can score on defense, but it's hard. When you're on offense, you get to call the plays and set the agenda for Kentucky and for America. That's what makes a big difference."

Translation: After two straight elections in which GOP fumbles kept Republicans in the minority, McConnell has another chance at running the Senate as majority leader, but that won't happen if he's defeated here at home and knocked out of the game.

On the eve of primary day here, McConnell appears confident he has crushed his challenger from the right, Matt Bevin. But it remains to be seen how much of a toll the manpower and money he has spent against Bevin will take - whether it will weaken him in what is expected to be the toughest campaign against a Democratic challenger in the three decades he has been in office.

It is also unclear whether the Republicans who don't support McConnell in the primary will end up voting for him in the fall. McConnell's campaign points out that Republican primary voters largely rallied around Rand Paul after a divisive GOP battle in 2010 and hope the same will happen this year for McConnell.

Grimes, a 35-year-old attorney and Kentucky's secretary of state, has a classic campaign strategy against the 72-year-old, five-term Senate incumbent: it's time for change.

"We've had 30 years of failed leadership under Mitch McConnell; we cannot afford six more," Grimes declared emphatically to a packed house at her campaign headquarters here in Louisville.

To counter that, McConnell is using a classic strategy for a longtime incumbent. He is trying to paint his seniority as a plus and warn Kentuckians about the perils of a junior senator with little clout in Washington representing them instead of a potential Senate majority leader.

"My opponent, I certainly agree, is a new face, but a new face for what? New face for the status quo. Same majority leader, same agenda, no change at all. A new face for no change at all," McConnell argues on the stump.

But Grimes' full-throated assault on McConnell goes beyond a call for change. She is using McConnell's GOP leader status and his frequent moves to block legislation to make him the symbol of gridlock in Washington.

We put that to McConnell in a brief interview.

"What Kentuckians have to decide is which direction they want the country to take," McConnell told CNN.

"Do we want to go in a different direction, or do we want Harry Reid to continue to be the majority leader? Do we want a vote for Barack Obama in a state that he carried four out of 120 countries? That's what's really at stake in the fall election," McConnell told us.

Like Republicans all over the country, McConnell is trying hard to make this election a referendum on Obama, who lost Kentucky big in 2012 and is highly unpopular now.

The problem for McConnell is that he too has a high unfavorable rating, and Democrats here are hoping that will be his ultimate downfall.

But McConnell has already been working hard to soften his image with positive television ads.

He is also almost always accompanied at campaign stops by his wife, former George W. Bush Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

At their appearance in Bowling Green, she introduced McConnell by calling him her "soul mate."

Republicans hope that helps another challenge he has in his race against Grimes: women.

Grimes is unabashed in her quest to get female voters to the polls by reminding them that she would be their first female senator, but also by ripping McConnell on issues relating to women, such as his opposition to equal pay legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Act.

"I hope you will spread the word not just across Jefferson County but the Commonwealth of Kentucky that this woman, well, she's not an empty dress, she's not a cheerleader, she's not a rubber stamp, she's an independent Kentucky woman that stands on her own two feet," Grimes yelled to her crowd here.

When asked about what polls show is a wide gender gap between him and Grimes, McConnell turned to Obamacare.

"Women in Kentucky have been treated just as badly in this environment as men have. Obamacare, you know women are typically those who manage their family's health care. They've been adversely impacted by Obamacare in a serious way. Surveys indicate women object to Obamacare even more than men. I think it ought to be pulled out from the root of the grass, and we ought to start over. I know that's not the view of my opponent in the fall," McConnnell told CNN.

As for Grimes, she may be trying to make Washington's problems all about McConnell, but she also clearly knows she has to overcome deep opposition to the President by separating herself from him.

"This election is not a referendum on the President. Nothing about this election is going to change who our President is, but we can actually change who is in Washington, D.C., and put someone there who fights for the people of this state instead of looking out for his own job," Grimes told CNN.

She has been trying to aggressively criticize the President's policies on coal, seen in this coal-producing state as punitive.

Like other Democrats on the ballot this year, she sidestepped our questions about whether she would welcome the President's help.

She did, however, tell us she would love to campaign with Hillary Clinton, whom she called her "role model."

Grimes' father was a prominent supporter of President Bill Clinton during his campaigns and presidency. The former President, whom she called "family," has already been to Kentucky to raise money for Grimes.

soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. Tony in Maine

    McConnell is already offensive. The better idea is to send him into retirement so he can get his own show on Faux or CNN.

    May 20, 2014 06:04 am at 6:04 am |
  2. Thomas Harold Richards

    Prefer illegal immigrants getting better treatment than US citizens... Vote Democrat!

    36,000 illegal immigrant felons realeased back into the US under Obama Administration in 2013.

    May 20, 2014 06:09 am at 6:09 am |
  3. Marie MD

    "Sports fans know you can score on defense, but it's hard. When you're on offense, you get to call the plays and set the agenda for Kentucky and for America. That's what makes a big difference."
    Sorry guy, but as a Ravens fan we know that DEFENSE is just as powerful except you have been all about OBSTRUCTION. You are not even playing the game anymore. You are sitting on the sidelines waiting for the game (in this case the 8 years of the Obama administration) to end to even put on your pads.
    The wife front and center now makes you less of a racist? I am sure her money was not in play for you.
    As far as healthcare? I think the people of KY are pretty happy with the ACA. Just ask your governor and he will agree with Grimes.

    May 20, 2014 06:28 am at 6:28 am |
  4. king

    i remembered when Mitch said that their first priority was to make sure this president fail. since these folks are the ones that write the law so that the president signs. they all decided not to write laws and obstruct like hell, the dems who tries to write the laws so that the president could sign to help the american people. by these words Mitch said as the leader of the repubs in the senate, effectively stopped our country in its tracks, since the president didn't have no legislation to sign into law on his desk. the Chinese was happy as hell, they seized on the opportunity to moved up on our country, now china's economy is more modernized and is set to surpass our economy in power. just because the repubs decision to obstruct this president's agenda, while china and the rest of the industrial world invest like hell in their countries to gain on us. the establishment repubs disabled our country to take back power, and the conservative tea party wing, does it because they hate Obama with a passion, for some illogical reason. they rather hoard money to the rich to build up china economy its war machine, then hide the rest in other countries from the tax man. leaving our country depleted of needed money.

    May 20, 2014 06:36 am at 6:36 am |
  5. Gurgyl

    Get this crook Mitch McConnell out of politics for USA sake. Second century ideology guy mess this nation. Go for Alison Grimes. Vote direct Dem.Ticket. Hillary16.

    May 20, 2014 07:13 am at 7:13 am |
  6. Pat

    I am quite dumbfounded by the accusation that Hilary Clinton is unable to serve as President. Dick Cheney was in the hospital, unconscious for most of his 2 terms as VP. Why was there someone in the number 2 spot that couldn't fulfill his duties? It is reprehensible that the Republican Party comes at Hilary this way. Dick was in a coma most of the time

    May 20, 2014 07:43 am at 7:43 am |
  7. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA - Take Back the House

    "Sports fans know you can score on defense, but it's hard."
    Ok Coach K. Whoops! That's Duke's coach. You're toast Mitch. Why don't you explain to your constituents that Kynect is Obamacare. Kentuckians overwhelmingly love Kynect and the governor'a approval rating(64%) shows that.

    May 20, 2014 07:49 am at 7:49 am |
  8. smith

    This reminds me of a sports talk show host trying to pump up a game in which everybody already knows who is going to win. Kentucky is red not blue, Grimes will get crushed.

    May 20, 2014 07:58 am at 7:58 am |
  9. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Goodbye, hopefully, Mr. Our #1 goal is to make Barack Obama a one term President. Go home and reenact the Civil War you old buzzard.

    May 20, 2014 08:02 am at 8:02 am |
  10. Lily

    People in Kentucky can you please make history for the first time ever and send Mitch McConnell home? I can assure you all, you will make News all over. You can do it. Please keep this in mind and do it.

    May 20, 2014 08:26 am at 8:26 am |
  11. Malory Archer

    Thomas Harold Richards
    Prefer illegal immigrants getting better treatment than US citizens... Vote Democrat!

    36,000 illegal immigrant felons realeased back into the US under Obama Administration in 2013.


    And how does that 36k figure compare to previous administrations? Additionally, how many illegals were deported under the Obama Administration, and how does THAT compare to previous administrations? (HINT: you may not like the answers)

    May 20, 2014 08:37 am at 8:37 am |
  12. Norma Vessels

    I hope people in Kentucky know that Kynect is the Affordable Health Care, or the nick name, Obama Care. It's all the same help for people who can't have health care any other way. I live in Kentucky, and I will vote for Alison. We need her in the Senate to help us, not to hinder and stop the good Bills struggling to get through the Senate. We need her to help open that iron gate.

    May 20, 2014 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  13. The Republican Party Is Dead To Me

    I hope he get's beaten so bad, he makes it a point never to be seen again in public.

    May 20, 2014 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  14. 2L

    Would be nice for KY to have an sexy attractive senator for a change 🙂

    May 20, 2014 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  15. 2L

    Would be nice for KY to have a hot senator 🙂

    May 20, 2014 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  16. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    I hope so too Norma. But I don't hold out much hope. Unfortunately Norma, our populace has been dumbed down so much that it's pathetic. I actually heard someone say a few months back that they're ok with the Affordable Care Act but that they hated Obamacare. So I asked did they know they were the same thing? And this person argued me up and down that Obama was trying to steal citizens away from legitimate insurance and force them into his insurance plan! I told this lady that the POTUS doesn't have his own insurance company, that the ACA is just an exchange so people can shop around for better rates. She looked at me like I had 2 heads. You know America has been dumbed down if unreality tv is so popular.


    May 20, 2014 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  17. Dead Bear

    It should be the main priority of Kentucky voters to make sure that Mitch McConnell is only a 5 term senator.

    May 20, 2014 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  18. Malory Archer

    Rick McDaniel
    Woman are destroying the fabric of America........just to get hand outs from government.


    So rick, how long have you been president of the He-man Woman Haters Club? Was there much mud slinging during your campaign against Alfalfa?

    May 20, 2014 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  19. Rudy NYC

    "Our number one goal should be to make Mitch McConnell a lame duck Senator."

    May 20, 2014 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  20. Rudy NYC

    Rick McDaniel

    Woman are destroying the fabric of America........just to get hand outs from government.
    Uh. Is that why some men are wanting to marry men?

    May 20, 2014 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  21. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Sports fans know you can score on defense, but it's hard. When you're on offense, you get to call the plays and set the agenda for Kentucky and for America. That's what makes a big difference."

    Yeah. That one term president thingy, Mitch McConnell. Barrack Obama scored off you. Big time.

    Here's hoping Alison Grimes scores against you as well.

    May 20, 2014 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  22. Peace

    Am sorry I do not mean to offend anyone. I am just using freedom of speech as always republicans claim. Folks, how can you claim the country is on the wrong track while you continue to send the same people like Mitch McConnell to work with the President. These are the people who have been there ever since the country started to loose its wheels and left the track. Do you still think this situation will change abruptly while the same people are still roaming around? We were all given brains (not that damaged one like Karl Rove claims) to use them. I urge you to use it wisely.

    May 20, 2014 09:55 am at 9:55 am |
  23. Greg In Arkansas

    Next, in order to appear more Kentucky'n, we will see commercials of Mitch betting on race horses, listening to bluegrass music, chewing tobacco, eating fried chicken, and drinking some Tim Beans, the best Kentucky whiskey in the world.....time to put this career politician "out to pasture"

    May 20, 2014 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  24. A Kickin` Donkey

    I enjoy hearing racist Kentucky hicks embrace & laud KYnect and then turn around and deride " Obamacare". One day they will have an epiphany and have to accept that Mr. Obama is responsible for something that they LOVE. Uninformed hicks is what they are.
    I hope Grimes forces McConnell to pass public judgement on KYnect and the, when the hook is in `em really good then she lowers the boom

    May 20, 2014 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  25. sonny chapman

    Middle class of Kentucky: You've got a better shot at the American Dream with Allison Grimes as your US Senator. Sure, she'll also stand up for the Poor & Repubs. will try to divide ya'll using that against her, BUT, Mitch McConnell sold you out to the Koch Bros. for his OWN booty. His Ride is over !!

    May 20, 2014 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
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