Alison Lundergan Grimes' Debate With Sen. Mitch McConnell Was Fiery And Unwavering

With the November midterm elections nearly upon us, candidates in contentious races all over the country are scrambling and scraping for every last inch of support, pulling out all the stops to try and vault themselves into first place by the time the ballots close. In other words, it's the highest-stakes time of the year for political debates, and it's never more crucial than when you only get one chance — Alison Lundergan Grimes debated Mitch McConnell for his Senate seat for the first time Monday night, and with the election just weeks off, it's likely the only one.

Both Grimes, the Secretary of State in Kentucky, and Senator McConnell mounted aggressive performances, and it's easy to see why — the two are running in pretty tight proximity to each other, with the Huffington Post's polling aggregation showing about a four-point lead for McConnell, and a 64 percent likelihood the Republican Senate Minority Leader will retain his seat, and a 62 percent chance the GOP will win the Senate outright, turning him into Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

Which made it all the more important to the Democratic Party that Grimes had a good, strong performance on Monday. So, how did it go? Here are some takeaways from the big Grimes/McConnell debate.

Senator Shutdown

Much as you'd expect, Grimes has tried to connect McConnell to the paralyzing, unprecedented levels of Senate gridlock that have been in effect more or less since the start of the Obama era, and suffice it to say that isn't very hard to do — McConnell is in charge of the Senate GOP, and his filibuster-or-bust strategy on countless bills over the last six years makes him as much the architect of this stagnation as anybody. According to Politico, Grimes dubbed McConnell "Senator Shutdown," among other things.

Whether you call him Sen. Gridlock, Sen. No-Show or Sen. Shutdown, the only person who Washington has been working for is Sen. McConnell. ... Senator McConnell's 30 year record, its gridlock, it's obstruction, it's partisanship, that's cost this nation a 16-day government shutdown.

McConnell, on the other hand, cited a handful of bipartisan deals he's been involved with, including the 2010 renewal of the Bush tax cuts (a Republican policy) and the fiscal cliff deal of 2012, suggesting he's happy to work together wherever Democrats and Republicans might agree. Of course, that's not exactly what compromise is supposed to be — sometimes you're supposed to play ball in areas of disagreement, too.

Climate Change? Ehhhhh...

Grimes has gotten a to of public scrutiny over her decision not to reveal whether she voted for President Obama in 2008 or 2012, asserting her right to keep her ballot secret. But McConnell's also got a prickly question on his plate — what about climate change, maybe the single most imperative matter of scientific analysis for the human race writ large?

Well, McConnell isn't interested in talking about that. He more or less completely deflected away from the question from moderator Bill Goodman, according to The New York Times.

There are a bunch of scientists who feel there is a problem and maybe we can do something about it.

Wow, tough talk. Though he's basically given his preferred answer on this before: "I'm not a scientist," the dismal last refuge of the climate change denialist Republican.

The Race to Salute Coal

Who loves coal? Both of these two do! If you take their words for it, that is, but neither one thinks the other person is being honest about it. In spite of whatever health and environmental concerns might come with it, the two sparred to be seen as the most pro-coal all the same, with Grimes accusing McConnell of taking anti-coal money.

Coal keeps the lights on here in Kentucky. And unlike Senator McConnell's record, my record is consistent — Senator McConnell actually fought against a coal-fired plant as a county judge. He actually has accepted over $600,000 — his family has — from anti-coal interests.

McConnell, predictably, tried to turn it around on Grimes.

It's pretty obvious, given where her support comes from, all the anti-coal activists in the country, that she's gonna do their bidding.

These Two Don't Like Each Other

Hardly a shocker in a tight Senate campaign, but there's a rather palpable tension between Grimes and McConnell. As the Kentucky Courier-Journal observed, Grimes interrupted McConnell multiple times to rebuke some of his claims against her, and McConnell attempt to turn on the cool, southern dismissiveness. This was especially apparent when Grimes again refused to state who she voted for in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections — though she has admitted to voting for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries, calling herself a Clinton Democrat, a title McConnell attacked.

There's not a dime's worth of difference between a Clinton Democrat and an Obama Democrat.

McConnell also disputed that there was a "sacred right" not to reveal who you voted for. While "sacredness" is obviously a vague term, Grimes does have every constitutional right not to disclose this, though refusal to answer does ring a bit hollow in comparison to McConnell's candor — he freely admits he voted Republican in 2008 and 2012. And that's a luxury he has, because Kentucky is a deep-red state. Grimes, on the other hand, has to hedge around the perception she's an Obama supporter, which is the most obvious political reason she's continued to refuse.

Bill, there's no reluctancy. This is a matter of principle. Our constitution grants, here in Kentucky, the constitutional right for privacy at the ballot box. For a secret ballot. You have that right, Senator McConnell has that right, everyone has that right.

Images: The Kentucky Courier-Journal; Lord Rothschild/YouTube (3)