By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Former President Bill Clinton will be in Louisville Feb. 25 on behalf of Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Mitch McConnell.
The campaign made the announcement Friday afternoon, fresh on the heels of the release of the Bluegrass Poll that showed Grimes with a slim lead over McConnell.
“We are very excited to have President Clinton coming into town to make his first campaign stop of this election cycle,” Grimes said. “I was elated when he called and said he wanted to make this race his top priority.”
Campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton said Clinton will appear at an event at the Galt House but said other details of the visit by the former president — who twice carried Kentucky and is friends with Grimes and her father, Jerry Lundergan — haven’t been finalized. Norton declined to say if the visit will include a fundraising event for Grimes but said an announcement about the visit will be forthcoming.
Clinton met with Grimes last year during a visit to Owensboro at the time she was still debating whether to challenge McConnell and he made a video for Grimes’ public coming-out event in Lexington last July following her earlier hastily arranged announcement.
The Grimes campaign said Clinton’s visit is the first he’ll make on behalf of any 2014 election cycle candidate.
“We appreciate President Clinton’s friendship and are excited that he is making our campaign a top priority,” Grimes senior adviser Jonathan Hurst said Friday. “We’re proud to have the president as a key part of this campaign.”
McConnell is a five-term incumbent and Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate. He faces Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin in the May primary, but Bevin continues to trail McConnell in polls — by 26 points in the Bluegrass Poll. Three others have filed — Brad Copas, Chris Payne and Shawna Sterling — but aren’t raising money for the race.
Grimes is the presumptive favorite to win the Democratic primary but that primary also includes three minor candidates who haven’t reported raising any money: Burrel Farnsley, Greg Leichty and Tom Recktenwald.
The new Bluegrass Poll, conducted by SurveyUSA on behalf of The Courier Journal, Lexington Herald-Leader, WHAS-TV and WLKY-TV, showed Grimes at 46 percent and McConnell at 42 percent. The difference, however, is within the margin of error. It also shows McConnell with high unfavorable ratings (50 percent) and that Grimes still isn’t well known — just over half know enough about her to form an opinion.
That offers opportunity and risk, according to Democratic consultant Danny Briscoe.
“The numbers indicate a little over a fourth of voters will vote for her no matter what and about a fourth won’t vote for her,” Briscoe said. “About half the people don’t know her but they’re looking for an alternative to McConnell, whose numbers are awful for an incumbent.”
But McConnell, who has more than $11 million cash on hand, can buy a lot of television ads to define Grimes unless she does it first, Briscoe said. Grimes, who has been raising money for just two quarters, just reported she has about $3.5 million on hand.
“She needs to spend some money and get on television and introduce herself, tell her biographical story and define herself before McConnell does it,” he said.
Norton, Grimes’ spokeswoman, wouldn’t say whether Clinton plans to raise money for Grimes while he’s here later this month, but he’s a proven fundraising star.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.