, Corbin, KY

May 12, 2014

Hitting the campaign trail

The Times-Tribune

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

The most watched race in the country — the battle for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Mitch McConnell — has so far produced a bevy of charges and not much substance. We haven’t seen that much of McConnell or his likely Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes out on the campaign trail.

McConnell’s primary opponent Matt Bevin has been much more active and visible, but his performance hasn’t enhanced his chances.

Things are about to change. Grimes has begun television advertising although McConnell has been on the air for a while. McConnell once told me he doesn’t pay pollsters to give him bad information. Given his current advertising hardly acknowledges Bevin, McConnell clearly believes it’s time to begin the general election campaign.

McConnell and Grimes have also begun to go on the road. McConnell planned five stops across southern Kentucky Saturday, a day after Grimes began a 10-day, 50-county bus tour.

That’s the part of a campaign I enjoy. Long before Election Day reporters will have heard all the candidates’ talking points so often they know what they’ll say before they say it. We know the stock answers, regardless of whether those answers have anything to do with the actual questions.

At least when the candidates go on the road and meet actual voters, I get to meet and talk to the people who really count. Believe me, the voters are more fun to talk to than campaign aides or consultants or political experts. They’re more enlightening, too.

It’s an opportunity to watch candidates interact with voters which often tells me more about them than the carefully controlled and choreographed press conferences. Although campaign stops mostly attract those who’ve already made up their minds, that’s not always true. Those who come out to see the candidates in person sometimes ask better questions than reporters and the candidate’s answers can be more illuminating.

Meeting and sometimes getting to know new people from across the state during campaigns is fun. Reporters often don’t know as much they think and can learn a lot from voters who are serious about evaluating the candidates. Over the years I’ve also met a lot of people who continue to be valuable sources to whom I can return in future campaigns to find out how things are shaping up in their part of the state.

By watching how they greet voters and how they respond to them, I learn more about the candidates themselves. Are they genuine? Do they enjoy talking to the public? Is the small talk a chore or do they genuinely enjoy meeting people? Do the smiles they offered the voter disappear as soon as they turn back to the campaign bus – have they’ve already forgotten the person? And how did the voter react to the candidate? Was he or she pleased, impressed or disappointed?

I see the toll on the candidates and their families. Whatever you may think of politicians in general or an individual candidate, we ought to acknowledge it’s grueling to run for office. Candidates ought (most of them anyway) to be given credit for wanting to serve and enduring what it takes to do so.

Over the years, I’ve noticed something about my own reactions to candidates after a long, tough campaign. Invariably by the time it ends, I like them less as political candidates and more as people. Despite their handlers’ best efforts, their humanity often shows through.

It’s been a dreary primary season without much suspense. McConnell and Grimes are all but guaranteed to win their primaries. I’m happy the real campaign and the real fun will soon begin.