CORBIN — 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.
By RONNIE ELLIS / CNHI News Service
CAMPBELLSVILLE – Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes know a good place to look for votes when they see it.
McConnell, the incumbent Republican U.S. Senator, is trying to hold off Democrat Grimes’ challenge as he seeks a sixth term and hopes to become the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate if the GOP can pick up six seats this fall.
So the annual Fourth of July parade here was a natural for both candidates. Organizers estimated that maybe 25,000 were on hand in this town of just 10,769 – and they may not have been embellishing all that much.
At least some of them hoped to see McConnell and Grimes together on the same stage but were disappointed. Grimes spoke, keeping largely to appropriate Fourth of July themes. However McConnell’s spokeswoman said McConnell had not previously agreed to speak at the event. He arrived just in time to join the parade.
But after the parade, McConnell said the election is a “referendum on the Obama administration’s abysmal record” and a “jobless recovery.”
Economists generally agree the recovery has been weaker than expected but job figures have been improving rapidly in recent months. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that the economy added 288,000 jobs last month, bringing the national unemployment rate to 6.1 percent, the lowest rate since October 2008 just before the financial collapse of giant financial firms on Wall Street.
But McConnell said “virtually everything (the Obama administration) has done is a job depressant,” including what he calls Obama’s “war on coal.”
Grimes said the race isn’t about the Obama.
“What Mitch McConnell fails to realize is the president’s name isn’t on the ballot. It’s my name on the ballot,” Grimes said.
Taylor County isn’t exactly coal country – but one man who declined to be interviewed wore a black T-Shirt with pro-coal slogans on it. When McConnell’s parade car passed, the man yelled and made a thumbs-up sign as McConnell campaign volunteers walking alongside McConnell’s car cheered.
Grimes says she’s “a pro-coal Kentuckian.” But sharing the same party label with Obama is a challenge in coal-friendly Kentucky. Grimes’ primary vote totals in coal-producing counties lagged behind her statewide totals while McConnell outperformed his statewide totals in the same counties.
While McConnell never misses a chance to say Grimes is Obama’s Democratic ally, Grimes just as reliably blames McConnell for partisan gridlock in Washington.
“Kentuckians are ready for someone who says Washington isn’t working for us and after 30 years and the gridlock Mitch McConnell has championed, they’re ready for someone to finally get Washington working.”
She said those 30 years haven’t benefited Kentucky’s workers, either.
“After 30 years, Kentucky is no better off with a senator who believes it’s not his job to bring jobs to this state,” Grimes said, alluding to a comment McConnell made in April that economic development is handled in Frankfort.
Voters, Grimes said, “are ready for someone who’ll finally have their backs instead of someone that’s only been looking out for his own job.”
McConnell said the race is “competitive and it will be all the way to the end.” But he said he is ahead “and we intend to stay that way.”
McConnell’s campaign released an internal poll last week showing him with a 49-42 lead. Several publicly release independent polls have shown the race virtually tied and some show Grimes leading – but all have been within the margin of error.
Chad Sullivan, 43, a Taylor County farmer and registered Republican, said McConnell will win Taylor County on the strength of his support for agriculture. While registration is nearly even between the two parties, Sullivan said the county reliably votes Republican in federal elections.
Kim Davis, 49, of Campbellsville and a registered Democrat, is no McConnell fan and plans to vote for Grimes. The Director of the Green River Homeless Shelter said she’s emailed McConnell’s office repeatedly seeking help in landing grants to help operate the shelter.
“I’ve never gotten an answer,” Davis said. “He says, ‘Thank you for your response and we’ll get back to you,’ but he never does. I think Grimes will be more sympathetic.”