, Corbin, KY


May 5, 2014

Derby Week slows campaigns

CORBIN — Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at

Derby Week in Kentucky is boring if you cover government and politics because nearly everything stops for the week-long party.

For those covering the U.S. Senate race, that’s nothing new. For a race with national implications, a race the entire country is watching, it hasn’t been very enlightening. The two candidates almost certain to face off in the fall — incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes — aren’t doing much active campaigning.

McConnell was tied up with his day job in Washington. Grimes has a day job, too, as Kentucky’s secretary of state, but it affords more opportunity to get out and meet folks in Kentucky. But she suspended campaigning for Derby Week.

That didn’t stop their campaigns from trying to tar the other through guilty by association. McConnell’s campaign fired off press releases and called reporters about an event Grimes attended in Chicago where anti-coal crusader Tom Steyer was expected to show up. Apparently he didn’t and Grimes’ campaign finance reports thus far don’t show any money from Steyer or groups he funds.

Grimes’ campaign responded, quoting an article from Business Insider indicating McConnell received thousands of dollars in contributions from the head of a company charged with sex discrimination. Grimes tries to paint McConnell as insensitive to women’s issues and the McConnell campaign responds by decrying Grimes’ tardiness in criticizing state Rep. John Arnold who was charged with sexual harassment.

But there isn’t much actual discussion of issues. Both passed up opportunities to appear on KET’s Kentucky Tonight candidate forums with their primary challengers.

The heretofore most watched of those is Republican Matt Bevin. But the seriousness of his challenge may be dwindling. Two weeks ago, I thought I saw signs Bevin might draw enough support on May 20 maybe not to defeat McConnell but perhaps seriously weaken him for the general election.

But Bevin again shot himself in the foot. This time it was about a cockfighting rally he’d attended. Just as he did with previous dustups over listing MIT as part of his educational background and a 2009 letter which seemed to support the bank bailouts which he’d fiercely criticized on the campaign trail, Bevin mishandled the controversy.

Attending the rally was a mistake. (Who on his staff didn’t realize that, by the way?) But a lot of folks in Kentucky aren’t all that outraged by cockfighting. Many might have over looked the nature of the event, understanding the need for a long-shot underdog to reach as many potential voters as possible.

But once again Bevin wouldn’t own up and admit the mistake. Instead, he danced and dissembled, saying he wasn’t aware of the nature of the rally. But this time there was a hidden camera in the room and it showed Bevin had to know the event was about cockfighting. Bevin can’t seem to understand the question is about credibility — not cockfighting or MIT or bailouts.

Bevin’s growing frustration showed – he lectured reporters Monday on how they should cover the race and later in the week, he seemed impatient and short-tempered responding to my questions.

Still on Wednesday in Glasgow, he made a reasonable and understandable point which should concern McConnell. After all the personal attacks on Bevin by McConnell, it won’t be easy for Bevin and his supporters to rally behind McConnell after the May 20 primary.

“You can’t attack everybody and then expect everybody is going to say Kumbaya,” Bevin said.

McConnell is famous for effectively attacking opponents but this is the first time he’s had to attack a fellow Republican in a primary. We’ll find out in November if it costs him.

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