By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Tuesday’s U.S. Senate primary confirmed what everyone already knew: Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes will take on five-term Republican incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell this fall as each cruised to victory in their respective primaries.
Grimes, 35, rolled up nearly 77 percent of the vote. With 96 percent of precincts reporting, McConnell had 60 percent of the vote to Bevin’s 35.7 percent. Minor candidates Brad Copas, Chris Payne and Shawna Sterling got less than 5 percent of the vote combined.
Grimes defeated Greg Leichty, a University of Louisville professor, Tom Recktenwald and Burrell Charles Farnsley, none of whom got more than 8 percent of the vote.
Now the race the nation has been waiting for will begin. And given the powerful victory speeches each of them gave, hitting the other hard and head on, the nation’s political observers won’t likely be disappointed.
A defiant McConnell wasted no time in saying the battle will be with Barack Obama and Harry Reid as much as about Grimes. He called Grimes Obama’s “hand-picked candidate” and said Obama doesn’t “care a whit for Kentucky.”
Grimes just as clearly wants the race to be about McConnell, calling him “Senator Gridlock “in her victory speech.
McConnell knows Kentuckians don’t like Obama, as evidenced by two landslide losses in the commonwealth in presidential elections. In his speech, McConnell was forceful and made it sound personal — about Obama, not Grimes.
McConnell had the more difficult primary task, simultaneously fending off Bevin while trying to define Grimes as an ally of Barack Obama and Harry Reid. He started early on Bevin, calling him “Bailout Bevin” for taking a grant from Connecticut for a family business that had been destroyed in a fire.
Bevin at times seemed intent on making McConnell’s job easier, stumbling in explaining a 2009 letter praising the bank bailouts, embellishing his resume, and fumbling badly an explanation of his appearance at a cockfighting rally.
Just after 8 p.m. EDT, Bevin conceded, saying “We’re not going to win this race, and I’ve spoken to Mitch McConnell.”
With his wife and nine children, four of whom are adopted, standing with him, Bevin told supporters he “had been lied about” but urged supporters “to take the high road” and “not return hatred with hatred.”
He told them he will not support the Democratic platform and the solutions to the country’s problems lie “within the ranks of the Republican Party.” He said he will never support the “Democratic platform.”
But he did not mention McConnell by name, surely disappointing McConnell who needs to get Bevin supporters back into his column by the fall. No doubt that’s why McConnell had tea party favorite, Kentucky’s other Republican Senator, Rand Paul, introduce him by speaking to the crowd at his headquarters by video from Washington.
“Obama needs Alison Grimes,” Paul said. “Kentucky needs Mitch McConnell.” He went on to say “Kentucky Republicans must now come together” to make McConnell the Majority Leader of a Republican Senate.
McConnell started off by commending Bevin on his race, but a “tough race that is behind us. It’s time for us to unite. For my opponents’ supporters, I hope you’ll unite behind us. Your fight is our fight.”
He then talked about his wife, Elaine Chao, and his mother who helped him battle through childhood polio. Both, of course, are images which McConnell hopes will diffuse Grimes’ advantage as a younger woman who appeals to women voters and criticizes McConnell for neglecting women’s issues.
“My opponent is in this race because Barack Obama and Harry Reid want her in this race,” he added, again making clear he wants to run against those national Democrats rather than Grimes.
“A vote for my opponent is a vote for a guy who thinks coal makes you sick. A vote for my opponent is a vote for Obamacare and the president who sold it to us on a mountain of lies,” he said. He then spent the next part of his speech railing against the Affordable Care Act. He never mentioned Grimes by name.
Grimes addressed her supporters last. She made it clear she wants the race to be about McConnell, not Obama or McConnell’s leadership role in the Senate.
“Together we will take this fight to Mitch McConnell and make him accountable for his 30 years of failed leadership,” Grimes said.
She hit McConnell on the minimum wage, which she supports and says McConnell has voted against 15 times. She talked about his votes against the Violence Against Women Act and legislation to guarantee women equal pay for equal work.
“Sen. McConnell, if you can’t stand up to vote to protect Kentucky’s women against violence, you don’t deserve to be a United States Senator,” said Grimes, sounding every bit as defiant as McConnell had.
She said she is pro-coal and disagrees with Obama’s policies. “Anything you hear to the contrary from Mitch McConnell, it is a lie,” she said.
She said McConnell, not Obama, is the issue.
“Sen. McConnell, this race is between you and me,” she said. “And as you said so many years ago, it is my number one priority to see that Mitch McConnell doesn’t serve another term,” referring to McConnell’s statement that his number one priority was to ensure Obama didn’t win a second term.
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.