May 21st, 2014
02:32 PM ET
9 years ago

The gloves are off in the marquee Senate battle

(CNN) - Kentucky residents awoke Wednesday to a new wave of negative campaign television commercials.

They're just a taste of things to come over the next five months in what's already a very ugly and expensive Senate contest. When it's all over in November, the Bluegrass showdown could break records and become the most expensive Senate campaign in history.

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It could also determine which party will hold the majority in the Senate for the last two years of Barack Obama's presidency.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnnell and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, his Democratic challenger, each easily won their primary contests on Tuesday. And both immediately turned their attention toward each other.

"It seems no matter how many elections we have, nothing gets better in Washington," Grimes said directly into the camera in a new ad that launched Wednesday morning. "It only gets worse. A lot of that is because of the people at the top in both political parties. If we keep sending them back, nothing will change.

"I'm running because I believe we need a senator who puts partisanship aside and works with both Democrats and Republicans to do what's right for Kentucky and for our country."

The Grimes campaign said it will run the commercial across Kentucky.

Grimes also touts her independence from President Barack Obama, whose approval rating in Kentucky is in the low 30s.

"No matter who the president is, I won't answer to them. I'll only answer to you," Grimes declared.

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A new ad from a pro-McConnell super PAC makes the opposite case.

"Liberals coast to coast are rolling out the red carpet for Alison Grimes. She's backed by Obama's biggest fundraisers. And Hollywood's most liberal political activists," says the narrator in the ad by Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, which said it's shelling out big bucks to run the spot statewide starting Wednesday.

McConnell, who's bidding for a sixth term in the Senate, on Wednesday invited Grimes - a rising star in the Democratic Party - to three debates starting July 4th.

"By conducting these debates without an audience, without props, and without notes, it will allow for an unvarnished exchange of views for Kentuckians to evaluate,"
McConnell wrote in a letter to Grimes.

While the Grimes campaign had yet to officially respond to the McConnell proposal, the candidate has already said she's looking forward to debating McConnell.

Grimes spent the morning after the primary back on the campaign trail, talking to unemployed workers, while McConnell headed back to the nation's capital.

State of play

Democrats hold a 55-45 majority in the Senate (including two independents who caucus with the party), but are defending 21 of the 36 seats in play, with half of those Democratic-held seats in red or purple states.

Kentucky and Georgia are only states in which Democrats currently feel they have a good chance to flip Republican-held seats.

If the GOP grabs six Democratic-held seats, they would win control of the Senate, and McConnell would get a promotion from minority leader to majority leader.
Tuesday's GOP Senate primary results in Kentucky, as well as in Georgia and Oregon, appeared to improve the Republicans' odds come November.

In Georgia, the two candidates in a July 22 runoff are considered the most acceptable to the establishment. Three more conservative and anti-establishment candidates were eliminated. And in Oregon, pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Monica Wehby, who enjoyed support from the GOP establishment, defeated a more conservative candidate. Republicans hope that the Democratic-held seat in blue Oregon will be in play if 2014 turns into a wave election.

Republicans have won half the battle, says one veteran non-partisan political analyst.

"The Republicans are by and large getting the candidates they want to expand the playing field on the one hand and into places that weren't originally on the target list for the Senate and also to make it tougher for Democrats in turn to expand the playing field," said CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein, the editorial director of National Journal. "You look at Kentucky and Georgia, both tough seats for Democrats, but ones that they hope to put in play this year. Now it's tougher to do that."

Tuesday's victories by the establishment followed similar wins over tea party-backed candidates in earlier Senate primaries in North Carolina and Texas. And incumbents and other slightly more moderate candidates are ahead in the public opinion polls in many of the primary showdowns to come this season.

Establishment primary victories improve GOP's November odds

It's a very different storyline compared to the past two election cycles when the tea party scored a number of primary successes but hurt the party's chances of winning back the Senate, costing the GOP five winnable contests in the 2010 and 2012 elections.

This year's GOP primary results are improving the party's chances come November - by nominating candidates who have a better shot of appealing to the wider electorate that votes in the midterms.

"I think the goal here is to win in November. To do that you have to have nominees who appeal to a broader audience in most states," McConnell told reporters Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill. "The difference this time is that we’re in the process of nominating, I hope and I believe in every one of these contested primaries, the most electable nominee."

And that could be crucial in a climate that already favors the Republicans, thanks to the sluggish economic recovery, President Barack Obama's low approval ratings, and continued strong opposition by conservatives to the federal health care law, which is better known as Obamacare, and the so-called "six-year-itch," which traditionally plagues the party that controls the White House during a president's second term.

"You see discipline on the Republican side in a year that already is tilted in their favor," said CNN Chief National Correspondent John King.

Tea party leaders say even in losing, they're winning.

"The tea party has already won because we have changed the narrative and the political landscape in Washington. Now, both sides of the aisle express concern about our ballooning national debt," said Amy Kremer, who recently down as chairwoman of the Tea Party Express in order to help Bevin's bid in Kentucky.

Democrats argue that the move to the right will backfire on the GOP come November. Brownstein sees the shift, but says it may not be as detrimental to the GOP as the Democrats believe.

"The Republican Party is consolidating. It's something that predated the tea party, but that the tea party has accelerated. You're seeing on issues a sign of consolidation moving right," Brownstein said.

"But I still think there's a difference in temper and tone and governing strategy. Many of the tea party winners in the past view, compromise, in essence as capitulation.

And you are, I think, seeing candidates come forward who are more willing to make a deal in the end who recognize the value of governing. It's a subtle difference but it's a real difference."

CNN Senior Congressional Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this story


soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Rudy NYC

    it must be said

    Democrats are dreaming if they think they are going to win this Senate seat. It is good though that they will be wasting tens, maybe hundreds of millions trying though. That will siphon money away from other races and allow Republicans to win a majority in the Senate. Good job Democrats! We'll send you a thank you card after the election of Mitch as the new Majority leader in the Senate.
    Democrats won't need to spend anywhere near as much as McConnell probably will. McConnell will do the whole hair on fire, self-immolation thing, by campaigning against "Obamacare". Democrats need do only one thing. Make sure that Kentuckians understand that Obamacare and Kynect are one and the same, and that they have been lied to for years by people like McConnell who now want to take Kynect away from hundreds of thousands of you. I think that this message is where the Governor should take the lead..

    May 21, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  2. supreme ideology

    He was referring to the Republican governed having inked a deal he very specifically called a settlement, the Koch's didn't like the pensions not being completely absolved, so they are threatening the gop legislature, I know your unable to grasp what others find alarming, as long ad your sides winning, what a deep, long term outlook you have.

    May 21, 2014 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  3. supreme ideology

    You prove yet again, you can't think past the talking points that are constantly shot down with the truth and that's to bad for you, you have limited capacity, perfect gop, not smart enough yo question the obvious: how's jersey doing? Oh, my bad, Christie said it was the Democrats, never mind. You do realize you have blamed literally everything on the Democrats, and absolutely zero responsibility on the gop, you would make a great parent, yikes again!

    May 21, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  4. Gunderson

    Um, well there salted peanut,
    A word to the wise. You better fend for yourself because all those liberal big thinkers will sell you down the river in a minute. Clue: Those that don't learn from history are bound to repeat it. The Annointed One, your Leader once again is AWOL from his duty. But then again when has he ever been present for anything? Well except for screwing the job creators from their money so he can "Redistribute" the wealth. Take a look. After 100 years of big social programs we are where? On easy street? Guess again.

    May 21, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  5. supreme ideology

    And I believe that the pensions had to be approved by the state legislature, no wonder you don't have a clue who to blame, you don't even understand how things work, the perfect person to opine, one who knows nothing about it, not surprising though.

    May 21, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  6. just asking

    Why dose the GOP want to turn America into India , why do Republicans want a cast system ?
    The growing number of Untouchables on our streets our Vets .

    you can thank the stagnant jobless obama economy for that. but at least they are safe from obama's va death lists.

    May 21, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  7. S.B. Stein

    The tea partiers have moved the rest of the GOP so far to the right that many people like Reagan & Goldwater would be shunned if they were to be running now. This is not a good thing to call compromise a dirty word. It means you get something rather than nothing.

    May 21, 2014 04:23 pm at 4:23 pm |
  8. Dead Bear

    @it must be said... Why exactly must it be said? I find the arguments you try to make nonsensical and irrelevant. You do know what opinions are like, don't you? Everybody's got one and they all stink.

    May 21, 2014 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    "Those who can .....Do. Those who can't.......sniff it."

    That the best you can do? Too afraid to step up on substantive arguments?

    You have been sniffed and found wanting. Pew.

    May 21, 2014 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  10. Rudy NYC

    I think we all know by this point that the left is simply attempting to mislead us. The Republicans are the only ones who understand how to create jobs.

    May 21, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
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