By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service
MAYFIELD — Mitch McConnell said the 2014 election for his Senate seat comes down to a simple question for Kentucky voters.
“This is not just an election about who is the senator from Kentucky,” McConnell told about 250 at Saturday morning’s pre-Fancy Farm breakfast at Graves County High School. “This is about who gets to set the agenda for America.
“Do we want Barack Obama’s America or do we want a Kentuckian’s America?” McConnell asked.
McConnell, who is seeking a sixth term, currently is Minority Leader in the U.S Senate and has hopes not only for re-election in 2014 but for a Republican takeover of the Senate which would make him Majority Leader.
McConnell faces a primary challenge from Louisville investment manager Matthew Bevin who has the backing of several – but not all – tea party groups. The winner’s likely opponent in the general election is Democratic favorite Alison Lundergan Grimes.
McConnell never mentioned her name Saturday morning. But he talked a lot about Democratic President Barack Obama, who won less than 40 percent of the vote in Kentucky in 2012 and carried only four of the state’s 120 counties.
McConnell said that makes it clear Kentucky doesn’t support the agenda of Obama and especially the Affordable Care Act which Republicans call “Obamacare.” He also made clear the rest of the nation, including Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, doesn’t love coal as Kentuckians do.
Together, those things are the case McConnell hopes to make for re-election. He wants to nationalize the race while Grimes and Bevin want to make the race about McConnell’s lengthy time in Washington and his voting record.
McConnell said the race is bigger than that.
“Unless you’ve been dozing off lately, you might’ve noticed we’ve got a race going on for the U.S. Senate,” McConnell said. That race will determine “what is America going to be like” – whether it will follow Obama’s direction or one McConnell wants to set.
“We’re going to take America in a different direction,” McConnell said. “We have to change the United States Senate and make me the leader instead of Harry Reid, who famously said coal makes you sick.”
As close as he came to mentioning Grimes was to mention “my opponent.”
“What my opponent needs to explain to the people of Kentucky is how our state would benefit by having the Senate led by a Nevadan who believes coal makes you sick rather than by a Kentuckian,” McConnell said.
Grimes has made clear her own unequivocal support for coal and said Obama is “wrong on coal.” She’s said some parts of the ACA need to be and must be improved but she doesn’t say which ones or how.
While McConnell and congressional Republicans once said they wanted to “repeal and replace” the law but they’ve pretty much dropped the replacement clause. Friday, the Republican-controlled U.S. House voted for the 40th time to repeal the bill – even though it won’t get a vote in the Democratic Senate and Obama would surely veto it.
But McConnell said if voters return him to Washington next year and voters in other states give Republicans control of the Senate, they “will repeal Obamacare – root and branch!” as the crowd cheered.
He said as Majority Leader he’d have two goals: repealing the healthcare law and “comprehensive tax reform that lowers tax rates for everybody.”
McConnell also reminded the crowd of how closely the race will be watched nationally, saying the “eyes of American will be on Kentucky – this will be the biggest race in the country.”
He warned Republicans that his stance against Obama means “his liberal friends come after you.” One of Bevin’s attack lines has been that McConnell hasn’t been a strong enough opponent of Obama and the ACA and has called on him to join more conservative Republicans in Congress calling for a government shutdown without repeal of the law.
Bevin wasn’t seen at the breakfast but was scheduled to speak at the Fancy Farm picnic Saturday afternoon.
The other prime attraction Saturday morning was Republican Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer who is considered the front-runner for the 2015 Republican nomination for governor.
He was loudly applauded and cheered upon introduction and at conclusion of his speech. But like all the other speakers on the program, he turned his comments to the themes of McConnell’s campaign and quest for re-election.
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.