Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 5, 2013

RONNIE ELLIS: Will Democrats rally around Grimes?

By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI News Service

FRANKFORT — She’s in. Alison Lundergan Grimes is going to challenge Mitch McConnell.

What must she do to win and what will her party do to help her? We know what McConnell plans to do. He’s told us.

He said Wednesday in Louisville the race will come down to two things: the issues and his influence in Washington. Then he told us what the “issues” are: Grimes is a Democrat in a Republican-trending state which doesn’t at all like Democratic President Barack Obama. That’s not quite the same as debating federal spending, the rising income gap between the rich and the rest of us, health care or foreign policy.

Despite the awkward, poorly planned press conference Grimes held Monday to announce her candidacy, she was prepared for that one. When WHAS-TV’s Joe Arnold asked where she stood on Obamacare, Grimes didn’t hesitate.

“Regardless of the vote issued in this race, we cannot change who our president is,” Grimes said. “But we can change who we have in Washington representing Kentucky.”

Grimes will almost certainly make some announcement distancing herself from Obama’s intention to deal with climate change and air pollution, what his Kentucky critics and coal interests term “Obama’s war on coal.”

But will Democratic coal field legislators like Speaker Greg Stumbo, House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins and others go to war for Grimes? Stumbo actually offered a strategy Grimes may want to think about. He pointed out that “an effective Senator” would have lobbied the president to adjust his policy to lessen the impact on Kentucky. That also implicitly undercuts McConnell’s claim that his influence benefits Kentucky.

But another coal field Democrat said it will be tough for Grimes among his constituents. “They don’t like McConnell,” he said, “but they like Obama even less.”

That’s the core of McConnell’s strategy. He knows he’s not loved and can’t win on voters’ affection or approval. He has to raise his opponent’s negatives higher than his own. He – and outside groups supporting him – will flood the airwaves with negative ads. He’ll run as much against Obama as against Grimes.

Grimes needs her party’s help to fight back. She’ll receive financial help from outside Kentucky. But will Kentucky Democrats raise money for Grimes and will they put their own prestige on the line by publicly campaigning for her?

Will Gov. Steve Beshear go all out for Grimes, the daughter of his longtime nemesis Jerry Lundergan? It’s hard to think of any Democrat who should want more to take out McConnell than Beshear, who was “be-sheared” by McConnell in the 1996 U.S. Senate race. Helping Democrats hold onto the state House and beat McConnell would burnish his party legacy.

Beshear’s campaigns relied on contributions from the coal industry which has received most favored status treatment from his Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Will he now lobby the industry for Grimes now that she is running for Senate and not preparing for a 2015 race for Attorney General, a job Beshear’s son, Andy, apparently wants? There was a time when Kentucky’s Democratic governors would go all out to defeat a powerful Republican who has rubbed Democrats’ noses in their own ineffectiveness. But I’m not sure those kinds of Democrats are still around.

Those Democrats were economic populists, friends of the little man as they would’ve put it. That would also seem a promising strategy for Grimes to employ against McConnell’s influence argument. She might want to ask average Kentuckians just what his influence has done to make their lives better.

Grimes answered Democrats’ pleas. Now we’ll find out how badly those Democrats want her to win.

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.