May 21st, 2014
02:32 PM ET
8 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.

Complete Coverage: 2014 Midterm Elections

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. Tommy G

    "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."

    OMG.... Not this canned, recycled drivel!! She didn't actuaqlly pay money for this did she? Does tshe actually think people are going to believe she would not be voting in lock step with whatever Obama and Reid told them?!

    Kentucky, help SAVE the country, not WRECK it by giving Obama another Obamadroid in the Senate. Voting for a Democrat will give you more of the last 6 years of record unemployment and a stagnant economy.

    May 21, 2014 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  2. CB FL

    I would buy a ticket to see the debate between them. I would bet 2 to 1 that the turtle will try everything to get out of one. I think this is the first time Mitch has had his wife campaigning with him. Wonder why?

    May 21, 2014 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  3. salty dog

    Donna, your selective outrage isn't fooling anyone, now if you raised the same concerns over the attacks during the bush admin, you would have credibility, something you need not worry about. Ever. Remember, trickle down economics are the only way out of this horrible, horrible economy, how can we expect the job creators ( the 1%) to create jobs when they only took in 95% of the wealth: what % do you think it will take to get them yo create all those jobs, now what other countries have that level if inequality?

    May 21, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  4. sonny chapman

    Haven't heard the words "Term Limit" in this one.

    May 21, 2014 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  5. salty dog

    I mean look how well its working in New Jersey, and Texas, they had to use stimulus money to pass a budget, yup, your a genius too.

    May 21, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  6. salty dog

    So uh brainiac, where were you the last half of an eight year Republican run, you just can't handle the truth can you son? Wow, talk about clueless.

    May 21, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  7. 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.

    May 21, 2014 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  8. salty dog

    Christie, Rick Scott, Scott walker, the trifecta of doom. Pretty sure you guys are screwed, this is your bullpen, yikes!

    May 21, 2014 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  9. salty dog

    Must be said, look at what your gop money is doing in Detroit, careful what you wish for, coming soon to a city near you, total Koch control, live it, love it, you asked for it, enjoy it.

    May 21, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    Yikes, that Democrat woman looks like a baby killer for sure. Mean, mean, mean....

    May 21, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  11. ChrisM

    Mitch McConnells approval rating is Very Low in Kentucky. While Alison Grimms approval rating is High in Kentucky.
    Who do You think will win the election for U.S. Senate?

    May 21, 2014 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  12. Lolo

    Kentucky please save us from the turtle who promised to make President Obama a one term president. He has lied all along and was getting all of the kickbacks from big companies. He has his wife with him to save him. He was scared to show her face to the tea party because she was Asian and you know that the tea party does not like anyone who does not look like them. Now that they are trying to beat back the tea-party thugs he is trying to use his wife to get the Asian votes. The oldest trick in the book. Repulicans think that there will be fewer Democrats voting in the mid-terms, but they are up for a rude awakening. The lines are going o b just as long for the presidential election.

    May 21, 2014 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  13. Mike

    Republicans will lose a few seats in both chambers. Why? Healthcare reforms. Everyone is benefiting from Obama's healthcare reforms. What do they have to benefit by electing a republican to the senate? Nothing.

    May 21, 2014 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  14. Sniffit


    And yet, you couldn't slide a greased debit card in between the "establishment" and Teatroll candidates' policy positions, agendas, platforms, arguments and demagoguery of their Dem opponents. Boehner admitted there's no daylight between the two "factions" yesterday. And there isn't. People like Kingston in GA (labeled "establishment") run around spouting talking points and rhetoric that sound no different at all than the crap you hear at a Teatroll rally....blah blah welfare, Obamacare take over, yadda yadda imaginary voter fraud, herpy derpy COmmon Core is liberal indoctrination and will turn kids gay, etc....and it's all indistinguishable from the Teatrolls.

    The whole manufactured appearance and narrative of an internecine "establishment v. Teatroll" war is designed to do one thing and one things only: create the perception that the GOP is moderating in comparison to the radicalization and extremism of the attempt to help them "etch-a-sketch" to appeal to moderates and independents in the general elections. But even the slightest look under the hood reveals how utterly false the narrative is. They created a "new normal" for themselves, gleefully sprinting off the right side of the political spectrum, and electing "establishment" labeled GOPers is no more a return to moderate conservatism and sanity than electing someone like Todd Akin or Sharron Angle would have been. They're peas in a pod and fighting over which one was closer to the stem makes no difference.

    May 21, 2014 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  15. The Republican Party Is Dead To Me

    Get out and vote. Shut these idiots up once and for all.

    May 21, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  16. it must be said

    salty dog
    Must be said, look at what your gop money is doing in Detroit, careful what you wish for, coming soon to a city near you, total Koch control, live it, love it, you asked for it, enjoy it

    hahaha... Detroit was run by Demorcats for DECADES. Ran the place into bankruptcy, mass corruption, unions with the help and aid of Democrats bilking the taxpayers. Detroit is a perfect example of Democrat economic policies. Take, take, take, and take until there is no more to take, then blame others for the problem. Never adapted, just kept borrowing and spending and spending and borrowing. It is the Democrat way.

    May 21, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  17. Lynda/Minnesota

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

    Well, Karl Rove did state on public airwaves that they (TeaPers) aren't the most savvy of voters. Yeah. They're winning all right. And running away as fast as their little legs will carry them.

    The Great American Tea Party is nearing it's short lived end. See them crawl back under their rocks from whence they came.

    Long live Mr. and Mr. Koch.

    May 21, 2014 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    And we're supposed to believe this silly GOP establishment v. Teatroll narrative...and that the establishment is "winning" and thereby somehow moderating the party's radicalized, extremist nonsense? What a farce. GA is having a runoff between Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) and a guy who claims that there's a secret plot by the gay community to sodomize all your children and says that Muslims should not have First Amendment rights. Yeah...the party and its base are oh so interested in moderating their views and moving away from the Teatroll extremism. Yawn.

    May 21, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  19. CryBabies

    @ Anonymous....Didn't you know.......she' s the poster girl for the "war on women". Backed up by Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.

    May 21, 2014 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  20. AlbaMN

    Good luck to Grimes, she will need it. But we do need a lot of new blood in Washington. People who want to do what is best for the U.S. not some political party.

    May 21, 2014 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  21. supreme ideology

    Why kill a baby when you can relegate it into life long poverty, you Democrats, always thinking small.

    May 21, 2014 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  22. Peace

    No matter how much money McConnell will pour in the campaign, he is not going to make it again this time. His Challenger is really, really tough woman. What she needs to do from now is starting getting people mobilised and organised with a slogan: "Let Us Bring McConnell Back Home". She is going to pull it out for sure.

    May 21, 2014 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  23. CryBabies

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

    May 21, 2014 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  24. Thomas

    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 .

    May 21, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  25. Lynda/Minnesota

    "The Republican Party is consolidating."

    Oh, indeed. It's all but gotten rid of the moderates. No since being bogged down by MainStreet America when you have the tin-foilers running the show from under their rocks.

    All Hail the tri-corner hats and knee breeches.

    May 21, 2014 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
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