Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

April 23, 2013

Grimes still pondering Senate decision

By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — As Democrats have shifted their attention and hopes to Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes as the person who might be able to defeat Republican U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, the 34-year-old, first-term Democrat has largely kept out of sight.

But she couldn’t avoid reporters Tuesday as she participated in the signing of her primary legislative priority this year — a bill to make it easier for military personnel to vote by absentee ballot.

Grimes said she’s been busy, not avoiding questions, first focusing on the 2013 General Assembly and passage of the military voting bill and then with a just concluded trip to Taiwan with other secretaries of state. But she’s home and a decision can’t be put off forever.

“I am now going to take the time to reflect with my family and my supporters on how I can best serve the people of Kentucky,” Grimes said when asked if she’s made a decision.

Grimes was asked if she met with her extended family this weekend to discuss a possible race against McConnell and if another such meeting is scheduled this weekend.

All she said is that she will spend time discussing the race with “family and supporters who helped” elect her Secretary of State.

Democrats want badly to field a strong candidate against McConnell, the five-term incumbent who is now the minority leader of the U.S. Senate and infamous for his no-holds barred campaign style, believing McConnell is more vulnerable than he has been in recent elections. But they haven’t had an easy time coming up with one.

Two Democrats have announced they’re in: Owensboro construction businessman Ed Marksberry and Louisville musician Bennie J. Smith.

But a series of prominent Democratic office-holders, including Gov. Steve Beshear, former Auditor Crit Luallen, Attorney Jack Conway and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson have said they aren’t interested.

Actress and activist Ashley Judd considered making the race but in the end decided not to run. While some assumed she thought better of facing off against McConnell who traditionally has loads of cash and spends it heavily on television to define his opponent, Judd said it simply wasn’t the right time.

But others also thought she may have been persuaded not to run by conservative Kentucky Democrats who feared her down-ticket impact on state House races and preferred a more moderate or conservative Democrat.

Grimes revealed Tuesday she was meeting with Beshear that afternoon by his invitation to discuss the race and her potential interest.

Beshear and Grimes’ father, businessman and former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan, have long battled each other in Democratic intra-party fights.

Grimes sidestepped questions about a secret tape by some Louisville Democratic operatives of a McConnell campaign strategy session back in February at which McConnell and his staff discussed public and published statements by Judd about battling depression, her views on religion and gender issues.

The publication of the tape by Mother Jones Magazine started a flurry of controversy over those comments and about the ethics and possible illegality of the taping itself.

McConnell’s campaign staff and the Republican Party of Kentucky have relentlessly tried to use the episode to cast him as a victim and frequently issues press statements demanding various Democrats “denounce or condemn” the actions of the two operatives or to explain any previous connection to them.

Subsequent to that meeting but before the tape surfaced and before Judd announced she wouldn’t run, a Super PAC allied with McConnell and the Republican Party ran an ad poking fun at Judd over her residence in Tennessee and support for Barack Obama.

Danny Briscoe, a Louisville Democratic consultant and former chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party, said Grimes risks the same fate is she waits too long to make a decision.

“If she takes six weeks or so to think about it, she’s going to end up getting attacked just like Judd,” Briscoe said.

Grimes was asked how soon she might decide but didn’t give a definitive answer.

“I’m going to give it the due diligence it deserves,” she said.

Another reason time is growing short for Democrats is McConnell’s fundraising prowess. He’s raised just short of $13 million already for a race over a year away and has $9.4 million still in the bank and he’s certain to raise more.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.