By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
The woman who wants to topple five-term incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and become the first woman elected to the Senate from Kentucky rolled into the state’s largest city Monday afternoon, sounding like she’s itching for a fight.
Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and McConnell are each heavily favored to win their respective primaries Tuesday, and given comments by both Monday, it won’t take them long to shift gears into the general election.
Grimes has focused on McConnell all along while the Republican had to tend with a challenge from Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin. But McConnell, too, in recent days has all but ignored Bevin and directed his comments toward Grimes – or rather national Democrats like President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
He told reporters earlier Monday he’ll be ready to begin the general election “tomorrow,” presumably as soon as Tuesday’s primary vote tally is complete. Grimes sounded ready and her campaign manager, Jonathan Hurst, said Grimes will be up with an ad Wednesday morning responding to some of McConnell’s attacks on the Democrat.
But McConnell may find the Grimes who ended the bus tour Monday in Lexington isn’t the same stump speaker who began the campaign last July with a hastily arranged and awkward press conference and who often sounded scripted and uncertain when speaking.
Monday night she seemed more than comfortable in the role, and hit all of her lines.
She told the enthusiastic crowd, which contained several blue collar and union laborers, that she isn’t the empty dress some McConnell supporters once called her.
“This woman,” Grimes said, “she’s not an empty dress; she’s not a cheerleader; she’s not a rubber stamp; she’s an independent Kentucky woman.”
The independent part is directed at those in Kentucky who might warm to McConnell’s message that Grimes will be just another vote for the people who have, in McConnell’s phrase, waged a “war on coal.”
Grimes said she’s willing to work across the aisle and will work with anyone who wants to help Kentucky move forward, but if anyone “seek(s) to undermine this state and its jobs you will have no fiercer opponent than Alison Lundergan Grimes.”
Grimes has repeatedly said she disagrees with Obama on environmental policies that the Kentucky coal industry and McConnell say are killing mining jobs in eastern Kentucky. But that hasn’t stopped McConnell from pointing out she’ll be one more vote for Reid to remain Majority Leader rather than returning McConnell, who hopes Republicans can take control and make him Majority Leader.
But Grimes used an awkward comment McConnell made to a Beattyville newspaper a month ago, when he said bringing jobs to the area wasn’t the job of a U.S. Senator to paint McConnell as out of touch with Kentucky’s middle class.
Grimes said “putting hard-working Kentuckians back to work” will be her number one priority as U.S. Senator and the first bill she’ll append her name to will be one to raise the minimum wage.
McConnell, on the other hand, Grimes said, will spend millions on television attack ads to try to “buy his way back to Washington.” She then hit him for opposing the minimum wage increase and legislation to require equal pay for equal work for women.
“Women don’t belong in the back of the line but in the front of the line and 79 cents on the dollar is not enough,” Grimes exclaimed as the crowd applauded and cheered.
Then she hit on her other major theme: McConnell’s near 30 years in the Senate, a record McConnell touts as a reason for re-election because he’s built seniority and power, something he did Monday at a stop in Bowling Green. He said failure by Kentucky voters to send him back to possibly become Majority Leader would be “an incredible loss of influence (for) our state.”
But Grimes says McConnell has been there too long, so long he’s interested only in his career and not the welfare of middle class Kentucky families.
“I don’t think we look at this race as a toss-up,” Grimes said. “I think we’re ready to toss out our senior senator. We are in this to win it.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.