Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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May 19, 2014

McConnell calls Grimes ‘new face for the status quo’

BOWLING GREEN — Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell told reporters at the Bowling Green Airport on Monday the general election campaign against almost certain Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes will begin Wednesday as soon as Tuesday’s primary election is over.

But when he addressed 50 or so supporters before talking to reporters, McConnell made it pretty clear he thinks that campaign has already begun.

As is his custom, McConnell never mentioned his potential fall opponent, but he took on part of the 34-year-old relative newcomer’s appeal.

“Now my opponent, I certainly agree is a new face,” McConnell said. “A new face for the status quo, for the same majority leader, for the same Senate agenda with no change at all. If you want to change America, you need to change the majority leader and change the majority in the Senate.”

That’s been McConnell’s career goal — to become Majority Leader. He almost had it in his grasp in the last federal election, but tea party backed candidates who upset Republican incumbents in primaries were defeated in fall elections by Democrats.

McConnell doesn’t want that to happen again and he’s spent heavily to smash Matt Bevin’s chances. Bevin, who trails McConnell by 20 points in the latest Bluegrass Poll, continues to say he can win in a low-turnout election because his supporters have more energy.

But McConnell made clear Monday he expects to engage Grimes as early as Wednesday, effectively dismissing Bevin before the voting begins Tuesday.

When a reporter asked McConnell to respond to Grimes’ assertion that he’s been in Washington too long and is part of the partisan gridlock, McConnell calmly answered her: “Look we’ll get into the debate in the general election tomorrow.” Then he quickly invoked his general election theme.

“But I think what Kentuckians have to decide is which direction they want the country to take,” McConnell said. “Do we want to go in a different direction? Do we want (Nevada Democrat) Harry Reid to continue to be the Majority Leader? Do we want to vote for Barack Obama?”

Chao hit some of those themes in introducing her husband, saying he has fought on “the front lines against Obamacare, against the war on coal which has devastated parts of our commonwealth, against mounting debt and runaway spending.”

She was singing to the choir here, but those are the very issues which Bevin says McConnell failed to do enough in his time in the Senate.

But the Warren County Republicans loved it, and they nodded and cheered when McConnell said failure to re-elect him in a year Republicans hope to regain the Senate Majority would be “an incredible loss of influence (for) our state.”

Of course, that’s part of McConnell’s difficulty in facing for the first time a well-funded primary opponent, supported by national groups who were instrumental in the Republican primary upsets in 2012 and 2010, with the prospect of a tough battle with Grimes afterward. Grimes remains essentially tied with McConnell in more than a dozen publicly released polls going back to the end of last year.

Failure to hold Kentucky’s seat could well cost Republicans — who need a net gain of six seats — control. McConnell said the prospects for picking up those six seats or more look good, ticking off a number of states where Republicans have a chance of defeating incumbent Democrats.

Warren County Judge/Executive Mike Buchanon, a Republican and McConnell ally, said people in Warren County will agree with McConnell’s message. McConnell has directed federal funds to many projects in Kentucky, including the Bowling Green area and Western Kentucky University.

“People in this area of the state recognize how important he is to Kentucky’s economy,” Buchanon said.

If the polls are accurate and McConnell is correct, that’s precisely the issue on which Grimes will wish to engage McConnell beginning Wednesday. She supports an increase in the minimum wage and pushes a jobs plan while saying McConnell hasn’t done much in his five terms but worry about keeping his job.

But it’s clear McConnell is already in fighting form and he wants to persuade voters the election is about President Barack Obama and Reid, not about a fresh face from Kentucky.

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.

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