How much of a gamble is it for Grimes to keep bringing in national figures?

06/30/2014 01:49 PM

As long as the money rolls in with the national figures, Kentucky Democrats say Alison Lundergan Grimes is doing the right thing by accepting help from the likes of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, even if it gives fodder to Republicans.

Grimes, so far, hasn’t shied away from bringing in national Democrats at a time when the country’s top Democrat — the president — has seen his popularity bottom out.

Political observers say the Grimes campaign strategists know Republicans will tie their candidate to the national Democratic Party, so they are going to use individual figures to put fine points on specific arguments against Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

The Grimes campaign brought in U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, on Sunday to illustrate the contrast with McConnell on “pocketbook issues,” such as the minimum wage and student loan debt.

“It should remind people that Mitch McConnell in his desire to deny Barack Obama anything is denying students and their families a change in student loans that could help,” said former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Ward of Louisville. “It will remind people of the national implications in the race … and the vindictive nature of Mitch McConnell.”

Ward said that Grimes campaigning with Warren, who is popular with liberal Democrats, won’t hurt Grimes “at all.”

“She is going to be charged with being part of the national Democrats whether or not they come to town,” Ward said.

The event generated headlines for Grimes, but because it was held on a Sunday morning, most of the news coverage was relegated to the Sunday evening broadcast news and Monday morning papers — not exactly prime placement.

Sunday’s event at the Red Barn building on the campus of the University of Louisville drew a capacity crowd. Supporters of all ages already were lined up before 9 a.m. when the doors didn’t open until 10 a.m.

More than 350 people filled the facility. Some had to settle for peeking in through the side doors, a times chanting “ditch Mitch” and carrying “Go Grimes” signs and sporting “Elizabeth Warren wing” t-shirts.

“We view Warren as one hell of a success,” said Jonathan Hurst, the campaign manager for Grimes.

In a phone interview with Pure Politics, Hurst said that while the campaign is focused on a grassroots campaign built in Kentucky they are seeing a lot of national interest in the race, and those figures will be making stops in the bluegrass state.

“We’ll see a lot of people throughout this race. A lot of strong supporters,” Hurst said declining to name other figures who will come to Kentucky for Grimes over the next four months.

It’s the money, stupid

David O’Neill, a longtime Democratic activist in Central Kentucky who now is the Fayette County PVA, said he considers Warren’s visit was a net positive for Grimes.

“Elizabeth probably helps with fundraising on the national level because she has such a strong national following,” O’Neill said.

Jim Cauley — a Democratic political consultant from Pikeville who ran Gov. Steve Beshear’s 2007 campaign and Barack Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate race — said he’d be “nervous” about the negative ads that will soon come from Warren’s visit to Kentucky. He said he hopes that campaign brought in enough money from Warren’s visit to offset the arguments.

Cauley, who is also helping advise several Kentucky Democratic legislative candidates, is also concerned about whether bringing in more national figures could hurt down-ballot Democrats in state House races.

“I think nationalizing this race is the wrong direction,” Cauley said, adding that state legislative candidates could suffer if the campaign plays into McConnell’s hand.

McConnell has been trying to nationalize the race by linking Grimes to President Obama and U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, in nearly every speech and press release.

It’s the Clintons, stupid

Grimes could probably benefit slightly from visits by more conservative Democratic senators, such as North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, O’Neill said. But on balance, Warren helps Grimes more because she’s better known — even if Republicans try to make hay over it, O’Neill said.

“But who we really need to see in the state are the Clintons,” he said, adding that another Clinton visit doesn’t have to be before Labor Day but needs to come “sooner rather than later.”

President Bill Clinton stumped for Grimes in February to a crowd of 1,200 in Louisville focusing on Grimes’ jobs plan and a federal increase of the minimum wage — a main tenant of Grimes’ campaign.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, toured the state with Grimes in February before Clinton came to the commonwealth. Stabenow, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee told spoke on the Farm Bill and women’s issues on her visit.

Former U.S. Rep. Scotty Baesler, D-Lexington, who served from 1993 to 1999 told Pure Politics he likes Grimes, but he believes the president will have a bigger effect on voters’ decisions than Grimes will.

“I think Alison has done a good job, but this is not about Alison,” Baesler said.

However, Baesler thought that bringing in President Clinton was “a whole different world” that could be a help in the race.


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