Alison Lundergan Grimes knew what message she wished to deliver Thursday when she filed papers to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by five-term Republican Mitch McConnell.
“What you see before you today is an unprecedented show of unity,” Grimes, 34, said to reporters and a contingent of supporters right after the Democratic Secretary of State filed her papers.
Joining her were Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, four former Democratic governors, all of Kentucky’s Democratic constitution office holders and several Democratic members of the state legislature. On hand, and signing those papers, were former governors Julian Carroll, John Y. Brown Jr., Martha Layne Collins and Paul Patton.
The other two surviving former Democratic governors, Brereton Jones and Wendell Ford, also signed her papers although they were unable to be on hand at the Capitol.
Also at Grimes’ side were her husband, Andrew Grimes; her grandmother, Elsie Case who appeared in her granddaughter’s 2011 campaign ads (for Secretary of State) and is featured in her Senate campaign advertising so far; her father, former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan and her mother, Charlotte Lundergan.
McConnell’s campaign released an internet response, “applauding Alison, Obama’s Kentucky Candidate” and the campaign’s spokeswoman declined any additional comment. The site contains video of Grimes applauding during a gubernatorial speech before the state legislature, while overlaying criticism of “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act.
(Grimes has said she would not repeal the law, although she would delay some of its requirements to allow individuals and businesses more time to adjust to the new law.)
McConnell, 71, is facing perhaps his stiffest challenge since first winning the seat in 1984. Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin is challenging him from the right in the Republican primary while Democrats think Grimes represents their best chance in years to take down the Senate Minority Leader.
Several publicly released polls have shown McConnell is unpopular with Kentucky voters, nearly as unpopular in Kentucky as President Barack Obama and the ACA. So the McConnell campaign has tried to tie Grimes both to Obama and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. McConnell refers to Reid as the man “who said coal makes us sick.”
Grimes danced around direct questions about whether she would vote for Reid as party leader in the Senate if she’s elected — much as Rand Paul did in 2010 when the Republican who is now McConnell’s Senate colleague was asked if he would vote for McConnell as Republican leader. Paul declined several times during the 2010 primary to promise he’d support McConnell as party leader but ultimately did vote for McConnell and has endorsed him in this year’s election.
“Unlike Sen. McConnell, I’m not running for a leadership position,” Grimes said.
She said there is blame for both parties for the current icy relations between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate but Kentuckians are interested in results, not squabbles between the parties.
Pressed a second time on Reid, Grimes responded: “I will tell you this, I will evaluate all decisions, whether they be votes for leadership or legislation, as a United States Senator with this in mind: and that is best for the people of Kentucky.”
She was asked if taking a position on Reid might hurt her chances in Kentucky.
“I stand for myself; I stand on my own; I don’t need the executive branch or any Senate leadership to speak for me,” Grimes said, adding,
Reid held a Nevada fundraiser for Grimes and McConnell’s campaign has tried to use that to portray Grimes as unsympathetic to coal and weaken her support in the coal fields, especially in eastern Kentucky.
But Democratic state Sen. Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg, an avowed coal supporter who was on hand for Grimes’ event Thursday said he doesn’t think the tactic will be effective in eastern Kentucky.
“They don’t like Obama (in eastern Kentucky), but I don’t think they’ll tie her to the President,” Turner said.
On Thursday, Grimes repeated themes she’s employed previously against McConnell, calling him “the doctor of no, the guardian of gridlock” and said McConnell stands at the center of Washington’s dysfunction.
She said the commonwealth’s families deserve good paying jobs and economic security – “unlike Mitch McConnell.” She followed that up with contrasts of her positions in support of the minimum wage and gender pay equity with McConnell’s votes against them.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
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