Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes looked past their primary opponents Monday, instead focusing on each other during campaign stops in Central Kentucky as they prepare for one of the country’s premiere elections this fall.
The stakes are high for both candidates in the November election, which has been a statistical dead heat in recent polling. McConnell may be the first Kentuckian to serve as Senate majority floor leader since Alben Barkley held the post from 1937 to 1944, while Grimes can become the first female U.S. senator from the commonwealth — points each campaign made to supportive crowds and state and national media Monday.
McConnell faces the stiffest primary challenge among the two today, but he did not reference tea-party-backed candidate Matt Bevin, whom he has led by double digits in polls throughout the campaign, directly or indirectly in remarks to a room of supporters at Blue Grass Airport’s TAC Air terminal in Lexington during a stop on a campaign fly-around throughout Kentucky.
Instead, the Senate minority leader highlighted his veteran status, saying although he’s enjoyed being his chamber’s “defensive coordinator,” he looks forward to potentially “calling the plays” on offense should his party attain a majority this fall. He decried President Barack Obama’s leadership and said Grimes, whom he did not name, represented the status quo in Democratic politics.
McConnell said “every crazy liberal” knows him, allowing Grimes to collect money from Democratic donors looking to boot him from the Senate.
“She can reach out to all the Obama supporters all across the country and say, ‘Help me to beat the president’s number one problem,’ and it’s a pretty appealing argument,” he said. “If you like this administration and you like the direction they’ve taken, it’s a pretty appealing argument.”
Grimes, speaking later in the day to a crowd of about 100 that included former Democratic Govs. Julian Carroll and Martha Layne Collins at the pavilion in Lakeview Park, said the Nov. 4 election is about more than party control of the Senate.
“It’s about two very different visions for how we move this state — one that continues to keep us in reverse, taking us backwards as he has the past 30 years, nearly three decades,” said Grimes, the first-term secretary of state. “… The other putting us in drive and actually moving us forward where we need and deserve and should be here in the commonwealth of Kentucky.”
While McConnell touted his ability to affect the nation’s direction as a Senate leader, Grimes appealed to middle-class voters by reiterating her support in raising the national minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and improving pay equality for female workers.
She targeted votes McConnell cast against the Violence Against Women Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and said she is the only candidate with a plan to put “hard-working Kentuckians back to work.”
Both candidates highlighted themes of change in their remarks to supporters. While Grimes staked out policy differences between herself and McConnell, the senator said his opponent’s election would reaffirm the agenda of a president who remains unpopular in Kentucky.
Grimes, when asked about McConnell’s campaign tactic of linking her with Obama, said Kentucky is “ready for someone that will be a champion instead of the empty chatterbox that we’ve had from Mitch McConnell.”
“Kentuckians aren’t buying it,” she told The State Journal on her campaign bus. “They are saying, ‘This election isn’t up for sale, we won’t be bought,’ most importantly because they know who and what I’m about. It shows the lack of any record that Mitch McConnell has to run on.”
Still, McConnell and Grimes have traded slim leads in various polls.
A recent Bluegrass Poll conducted on behalf of the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Louisville Courier Journal, WHAS-TV and WKYT-TV shows Grimes leading McConnell 43 percent to 42 percent, with a 2.6 percent margin of error.