Nine months before the 2014 primary election and more than 14 months until the 2014 General Election, the Kentucky Senate election is already heating up.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes announced July 1 that she’s challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) in what will be one of the most charged Congressional races in the midterm elections — which is being made clear by the effort campaign officials and supporters are already making to promote each candidate.
Here's what's going on in Kentucky.
There is much mudslinging, and it's only going to get worse.
Grimes' candidacy gave Democrats their top recruit in the Kentucky race against McConnell and the other Republican candidate, Matt Bevin. Since she announced she would run, there have been at least 20 television, radio, and Internet ads produced by the McConnell, Bevin, and Grimes campaigns in addition to those produced by outside groups working for and against specific candidates.
Eleven of the ads have benefitted McConnell, compared to three aimed at helping Grimes and six designed to strengthen Bevin's campaign. Even before Grimes announced her candidacy, McConnell and a super PAC backing him produced ads attacking actress Ashley Judd, who was considering a bid against the Minority Leader, as well as spots mocking other potential candidates.
“Welcome to the new normal,” Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the non-partisan Cook Political Report, told the Courier-Journal.
Duffy said the race is quickly becoming somewhat nasty due to McConnell's reputation for attack campaigns and because, despite his electoral triumphs, he is not well-liked. Poll numbers consistently show his favorability ratings well below 50 percent.
“It was going to heat up simply because of who McConnell is,” Duffy said, also noting the race will become even more unpleasant when Grimes gets further involved in it; Kentucky is one of the only places where Democrats are expected to have a chance of capturing a Republican Senate seat, Georgia being the only other state.
Earlier this month, a Washington Post blog suggested the candidates in the Kentucky Senate race could spend up to a whopping $100 million, which would set a record for spending in a U.S. Senate race.
Grimes is raising big bucks and drawing power players from the Democratic Party.
McConnell is a formidable fundraiser with deep ties to corporate American who held the first fundraiser for his 2014 campaign the day after the 2012 elections. But Grimes is fighting money with money — according to Mother Jones, she has privately told Democratic fundraisers that she will need as much as $30 million to effectively compete with the Minority Leaders.
Dems are rising to the challenge. Not only are the Clintons rallying behind her, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Hollywood mogul and one of Obama's biggest fundraisers, has already maxed out his contributions to Grimes' campaign. He is urging fellow Democratic donors to do the same, inviting southern California party members to attend an upcoming fundraiser for the candidate.
Plus, Grimes is surrounding herself with an impressive fundraising team. An aide told Mother Jones her campaign recently hired New York fundraiser Michael Pratt, who led the fundraising effort for Senator Elizabeth Warren's (D-MA) 2012 campaign, to its national finance team. The Grimes campaign hired another Warren veteran, Colleen Coffey, the Warren campaign's former in-state fundraising chief, as the leader of its fundraising team.
Warren raised $42.5 million for her 2012 campaign, the second most of any congressional candidate during that cycle. "Michael and Colleen are the best, and I was very lucky to have them leading our fundraising effort during last year’s campaign," Warren said.
Grimes is being vague on some of the issues.
The Hill published an article criticizing Grimes for pressing McConnell to be specific on the issues while herself remaining vague, saying the candidate who is known for her debating skills is displaying more caution than killer instinct.
In response to a question about how much of a drag she expected President Obama to have on her campaign, Grimes said she "disagrees with the president on a number of issues, from coal to the Affordable Care Act to the budget," offered few specifics and instead refocusing on her McConnell.
"In the Senate, [Senator McConnell] made it his top priority to make Obama a one-term president," she told The Hill. "He failed at that, and in the process, lost focus on what’s important."
The Hill said Grimes' responses follow a pattern of vagueness, citing her few one-on-one interviews that are characterized as "guarded affairs," as well as her tendency to refrain from giving opinions on controversial issues like immigration reform and higher taxes on the wealthy.
But she is calling for raising the minimum wage.
One issue Grimes isn't hesitant to discuss? Minimum wage. The candidate is actively pushing the idea of raising the minimum wage in order to grow the middle class.
Grimes distributed a news release Tuesday advocating the positive effects of increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Grimes said raising the minimum wage would affect nearly 30 percent of working Kentuckians, citing a Kentucky Center for Economic Policy report.
The communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee had some not very kind words for Grimes.
In the same Hill piece, Brad Dayspring, the communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee compared Grimes to a high school student and called her "an empty dress."
What an eloquent epithet.
Dayspring said Grimes attacks McConnell by recycling talking points used by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the same purpose.
“Alison Lundergan Grimes seems incapable of articulating her own thoughts, and faced with questions, either directly parrots the talking points handed to her by [Senator] Chuck Schumer or she babbles incoherently and stares blankly into the camera as though she’s a freshman in high school struggling to remember the CliffsNotes after forgetting to read her homework assignment," he said.
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