Grimes balks at fast-track trade approval, Dems talk GOTV at opening of Louisville field office

09/13/2014 02:22 PM

Kentucky U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes roused the Democratic faithful in west Louisville Saturday, opening a field office in an area that has historically supported the party’s candidates.

Speaking to about 200 supporters gathered in the office’s parking lot, Grimes hit Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on a number of familiar talking points with 52 days until the Nov. 4 election. Aside from pocketbook issues, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and alleviating student loan debt, Grimes focused part of her remarks Saturday on how she would protect Kentucky’s business interests while representing the state in Congress.

“While Mitch McConnell, his vision, it’s one of sending jobs overseas, giving tax breaks and trade deals that have lost thousands of Kentucky jobs,” said Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state. “He says it’s not his job to bring jobs here to this state. I believe Kentucky deserves a senator whose vision, it is her number one priority to put hard-working Kentuckians back to work and grow the middle class.”

One trade concept backed by McConnell, though, is fast-track trade approval, which would give the president authority to broker international trade agreements with a simple up-or-down vote from Congress. It’s one of the few points of agreement with President Barack Obama, and it’s one of the GOP’s top priorities should the party retake the Senate in this year’s midterm elections.

Obama’s administration has made headway in talks with 11 other countries for a Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would create a free-trade zone from Australia to Peru.

Grimes said while she understands the business community’s “feeling and need to have fast-track approval because Congress isn’t working,” trade pacts “should be fair, especially for our American workers.” One of the groups endorsing her bid to unseat McConnell, the AFL-CIO, opposes such trade measures .

“For me, I believe that Congress should be doing their job, and oversight is needed in the process,” she told reporters after her speech.

On the Trans-Pacific Partnership specifically, Grimes said in a statement emailed to Pure Politics after Saturday’s event that she would evaluate the final proposal “to see if it is good for Kentucky workers and businesses based on these principles:

“Will it give Made in the USA goods and services a fair shot of getting into foreign markets or will barriers remain? Will new trading standards be strong enough on labor and legal requirements, or will they be like Chinese standards: filthy factories, sweatshop labor, and stolen patent rights? Will the U.S. and other likeminded countries be setting the rules on trade and commerce, or will it be taking the rules created by countries — like China — with command and control economies?”

Generating interest, votes

As Election Day nears, Grimes and other speakers Saturday noted the importance of getting voters to the polls. That’s particularly true in Jefferson County, said Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville. Of the state’s 3.1 million registered voters, 17 percent live in Jefferson County, according to registration statistics.

“The last poll that came out … showed that Alison is now 27 points ahead of Mitch McConnell in Jefferson County,” Yarmuth said to cheers from the audience. “If we can get 300,000 votes out of Jefferson County, which we can do, that’s an 80,000-vote margin out of this county, and Mitch McConnell is gone.

“We’ve got to do that. Alison has all the support she needs if we can get it to the polls.”

Turnout in Jefferson County and the state as a whole, though, has lagged in midterm elections compared to presidential races. In 2012, for instance, 65 percent of Jefferson County voters and 60 percent of Kentucky voters cast ballots. Those numbers are higher than the most recent midterm election in 2010, when 53 percent of Jefferson County voters and 49 percent of Kentucky voters went to the polls.

In an interview with Pure Politics, Yarmuth agreed that midterm elections historically don’t elicit the same level of enthusiasm as presidential races, and voter turnout will be key to this year’s Senate race for that reason. However, unlike most midterms, Yarmuth said voters are keenly aware of McConnell’s reelection race against Grimes given the millions of dollars spent on campaign advertising in Kentucky.

“Everybody in Kentucky knows there’s an election and knows it’s a significant election, and people know what’s at stake,” he said.

Voters in Louisville “are fed up with Mitch and they really want to get rid of him,” Yarmuth said, but other parts of the state might not share that fervor, especially in eastern and western Kentucky.

“In the four major Republican congressional districts, overwhelmingly Republican congressional districts, there really isn’t a competitive (congressional) race, and so Mitch has to rely on people who aren’t necessarily enthusiastic about him but come out just to save his job,” Yarmuth said. “And that’s going to be a challenge for him.”

Democratic legislative candidates in Jefferson County are doing their part to drum up support for Grimes. State Rep. Darryl Owens, a Louisville Democrat whose district includes west Louisville, predicted get-out-the-vote efforts in the area will have “an impact on this race.”

Part of that strategy involves canvassing for potential Grimes voters, something Owens says he’s done while walking door-to-door in his reelection campaign against Republican Corley Everett.

“A number of the elected officials from this area is going to be out walking it, doing our best to talk it up and do the little things,” Owens said at Grimes’ west Louisville field office. “I have a race, so as I walk for me, I talk about her and have gotten a very good response.”

State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, said Democrats “have people on the ground right now that explain the importance of putting people in office who care and who want to represent us well.”

Like Yarmuth, McGarvey says the deluge of Senate advertisements on Kentucky airwaves has increased awareness among the electorate, and turnout for the midterm race will likely reflect that.

“I think this Senate race in particular, the race between Alison Lundergan Grimes and Mitch McConnell, has generated more national attention in Kentucky than we’ve ever seen for a race here, so I think people will be excited,” McGarvey said Saturday. “I think that people are going to want to vote in this election.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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