Ky. Democrats: Grimes will boost efforts to keep state House in '14 by keeping McConnell and his money busy

07/14/2013 09:55 AM

The top Democrat in Kentucky’s House of Representatives said Alison Lundergan Grimes’ decision to challenge U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell helps the party recruitment for House candidates.

The fear among some Democrats had been that without a top tier challenger to McConnell the five-term incumbent could cruise to victory in the U.S. Senate and unload some of his financial war chest to help Kentucky Republicans take control of the state House.

Democrats currently hold a 55-45 majority in the state House — the only state legislative chamber in the south not controlled by Republicans. The GOP made a push in 2012 but fell short after Democrats out-spent them a successfully defended all but two of their incumbents.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said that fear was definitely a factor in their recruitment effort for 2014 House candidates. But he said all that changed when Grimes entered the race essentially assuring that McConnell will have to spend nearly every penny of the expected $25 million he’ll raise on his own re-election.

“We were running into a lot of brick walls – that’s changed literally overnight. That’s changed,” Stumbo said. “I’ve had two meetings with candidates this last week who…are now interested, because they see this as an opportunity to not worry about those monies that Senator McConnell had amassed being used in the state House races.”

Danny Briscoe, a Louisville-based consultant said a McConnell-versus-Grimes contest would help Democratic House candidates.

“He is going to do nothing but concentrate on beating her,” Briscoe said.

Not only do Democrats think that Grimes will force McConnell to expend the full amount he collects — $15.4 million raised so far and $9.6 million cash-on-hand — but also will help the Kentucky Democratic Party attract extra dollars from out-of-state donors and political action committees.

Jim Cauley, a Democratic consultant who ran Gov. Steve Beshear’s campaign in 2007, said there are ways to even piggy back funds and cross-promote candidates.

“It’s a huge jump for all those people looking for resources. You can do those blended mailers. …district specific mail pieces with Alison…you get to split the funding up,” Cauley said.

The money pouring into the party won’t just be for mailers but also for polling and phone banks to draw Democratic voters out to the voting booth, Cauley said.

“I don’t see any reason the Kentucky Democratic Party doesn’t spend $3 million over the next three years,” Cauley said.

But not every Democrat in the state has viewed the expected hotly-contested U.S. Senate race as a party rallying call. Democratic state Rep. Richard Henderson of Mt. Sterling told Pure Politics he will remain “neutral” in the contest.

“Most people in my district have her leaning left and him leaning far to the right. The deciding factor is his voting record, and he will try to pin her to Obama,” Henderson said.

Henderson said he’s focused on winning reelection in his conservative district which means that he wouldn’t be “too engaged on the senate race.”

Stumbo said that Henderson is among the “minority” when it comes to Democratic members and their feelings for Grimes’ campaign.

“Richard Henderson is probably a distinct minority among House Democrats. I think she’ll have an overwhelming support from House Democrats,” Stumbo said.

Fellow House member Rep. Jim Gooch, D-Providence, said that he is optimistic for Grimes’ chances in her campaign.

“She’s and excellent candidate,” Gooch said. “I don’t think she hurts anybody down ticket.”

Instead, Stumbo said Grimes’ entrance in the race can be used like a shot of political adrenaline for a party that has been increasingly demoralized in recent federal elections, losing U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler in Central Kentucky last year, holding only one of the six congressional seats and losing the last six U.S. Senate races.

Grimes may not win in 2014, but Stumbo said her candidacy gives Democrats hope and a pathway for a major upset over McConnell whereas not having a big-name Democrat could have been seen as the party waving the white flag.

“Every House Democrat that I have spoken with is very excited about Alison’s candidacy,” Stumbo said.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@charter.com.

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