GOP leaders talk of broader, better Republican Party

06/07/2014 09:57 PM

LOUISVILLE — While one Kentucky senator looks ahead to broadening the Republican Party’s base for 2016, the other is sharpening his message against the Democrats — chiefly the president — ahead of this fall’s election.

“I can’t decide what’s worse: the liberalism of this administration or its incompetency,” U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell told about 600 Republicans attending the statewide Lincoln Day Dinner at the Galt House in Louisville Saturday night.

McConnell was specifically referring to the Obama administration’s agreement to trade five prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to the Taliban in exchange for captured Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. McConnell criticized the move to release Taliban leaders just before the United States removes most of its forces from Afghanistan.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, speaking earlier in the night, also criticized the move. But he said Congress was partially to blame by giving the president a waiver to get around the requirement that the White House give Congress 30 days notice of a prisoner swap.

The other issue McConnell made sure to highlight was the Obama administration’s position on coal — something he continues to use to link Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes to Obama. However, Saturday night, he went instead for a joke about an early draft of a newspaper ad criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules about carbon dioxide emissions.

“My opponent has been in Hollywood so much lately that she can’t really tell the difference between a coal miner and a European male model,” he said.

McConnell said one country curbing coal-fired power plant emissions won’t be enough to make a difference on global carbon dioxide levels. India and China won’t follow, he said.

However, a day after the EPA’s proposed rules came out, Reuters reported that a top Chinese climate change official announced carbon dioxide caps to be phased in.

But McConnell ended his remarks by returning to one of his favorite topics: Republicans winning enough U.S. Senate seats to take control of the chamber and make him majority leader instead of defensive coordinator.

McConnell also gave a shout-out to his primary opponent, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, who was sitting at a table toward the back corner of the ballroom.

In a statement, Grimes’ spokeswoman said the Republican Party may not be as unified as the dinner would suggest in the wake of last month’s primary that saw Bevin get 35 percent of the vote against McConnell.

“Just weeks ago, Kentucky voters handed McConnell the worst primary performance of a Kentucky Senator since 1938, because they know he has spent 30 years looking out for Washington’s interests — not Kentucky’s,” Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton.

Before McConnell spoke, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer introduced Paul by calling him the “next president of the United States.”

Paul joked that might be “a little premature.”

But most of his remarks focused on broadening the reach of the Republican Party to more “young people, minorities and young, single women,” for instance.

“It’s not the balanced budget amendment that’s keeping them out of their party,” Paul said. “We don’t have to give up our core message.”

Instead, he said the GOP should highlight its positions on privacy rights and social justice issues.

Earlier in the day, Paul had attended the opening of a Jefferson County Republican Party office in the west end of Louisville that’s named after William Warley, the Louisville lawyer who fought for voting rights for African Americans.

Similarly, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who introduced McConnell, told the Kentucky Republicans that the party must do a better job to recruit activists and engage voters more than just one year out of every four because Democrats have done that better in presidential years.

“We’re a pretty good midterm party,” Priebus said.


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