For weeks it appeared that Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes was rebuffing Democratic Party leaders as they tried to convince her to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). In a turnaround of fortune, they now have met success. Yesterday, she officially announced that she will run for the party’s 2014 Senate nomination and the right to oppose McConnell.
Early in the year, numerous public polls were showing the five-term incumbent to be in serious upside-down territory on his job approval question, thus suggesting a Democratic challenger could engage McConnell in a highly competitive race. But when paired in ballot tests with several potential opponents, McConnell’s numbers never sank as low as his job-approval score. Most of the data suggested he was running in even range against the strongest Democratic potential contenders.
Most of the early publicity surrounded actress Ashley Judd, as she publicly contemplated becoming a candidate. A major flap occurred when a liberal blogger infiltrated the McConnell campaign headquarters and taped a planning session without the participants’ knowledge or consent. Though the reports attempted to make the senator and his team look bad because they were discussing a negative attack strategy against Judd, it had already become a foregone conclusion that she would not run. Even the Democratic leadership soured on the idea, understanding that they could not sell her liberal ideology and lifestyle to a conservative Kentucky electorate.
With the Judd experiment looking unpromising, the Democrats began to heighten their pursuit of Grimes. Last week, a pro-McConnell Super PAC organization launched an anti-Grimes television ad buy, attacking her as a “cheerleader” for President Obama and attempting to identify her as a proponent of “massive” spending, the Affordable Healthcare Act, and the “War on Coal.” The purpose of the ad buy was to dissuade her from running, but the media blitz obviously failed to achieve its objective.
Mitch McConnell first came to the Senate in 1984, with an upset victory over then-Sen. Dee Huddleston (D) that shocked national political observers. Always one of the Republicans’ strongest campaigners, McConnell found himself on the ropes in the Obama Democratic year of 2008, but managed to surge at the end and rebounded to a 53-47 percent victory.
With more than $8.6 million in the bank at the end of March, Sen. McConnell will command huge resources in his fight to win a sixth term, an election that could possibly propel him into the majority leader’s position should the Republicans convert the six seats they need to wrest control of the chamber away from the Democrats.
Kentucky is proving to be one of the most loyal of Republican states in the presidential election — the last time its electorate voted Democrat was for President Bill Clinton in 1996 — but it remains competitive in other elections. Aside from twice supporting its bordering state neighbor Clinton, one would have to look all the way back to Jimmy Carter in 1976 to find a time when the state landed in the Democratic column.
But, the Blue Grass State’s presidential politics are misleading. Though the electorate has long backed the Republicans in national elections, such is not the case at the statewide level. In fact, since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election in 1932, the GOP has held the governorship, for example, for only 12 of the 81 elapsed years. So, the state continues to brandish considerable Democratic potential.
The McConnell-Grimes race is now on, and we can count on this being one of the liveliest campaigns in the nation.