Where does Grimes go from here? Only she knows as speculation swirls

11/09/2014 06:45 PM

Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has maintain a low profile since losing to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell by 15 points on Tuesday, fueling speculation on her plans for next year’s elections.

She hasn’t addressed the media in the aftermath of her failed Senate bid, and her three-minute concession speech Tuesday night raised more questions as the 35-year-old promised to “work my hardest to keep this amazing organization that we have built together intact to fight for a brighter and better future.”

“We deserve that,” she said.

But will that fight continue as Kentucky’s second-term secretary of state or as a candidate for governor, lieutenant governor or attorney general in 2015?

Only Grimes knows which direction she’s leaning toward at this point, and even that can change as she weighs the pros and cons of each office. One thing is clear: Kentucky Democratic politicians aren’t giving up on Grimes after she faced a Republican tsunami that swept the GOP to majority control of the U.S. Senate in the midterm elections and put McConnell in line to write the chamber’s agenda.

“I don’t think those were votes necessarily so much against Alison Lundergan Grimes, and I don’t think those votes were necessarily votes for Sen. McConnell,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Wednesday. “Those were votes primarily as a backlash to the president of the United States, and it didn’t happen just here. It happened everywhere across the nation. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that people were upset, and this was a way, in their judgement, to get back at the president.

“I think it’s a bump in the road,” he continued, speaking of Grimes. “The type of campaign that she ran, I think she can be proud of. … This lady, if she chooses to stay in public office, is going to be a bright, shining star in Kentucky’s political scene for a long time.”

Observers, too, say Grimes deserves credit for taking on McConnell in a year when other Democrats avoided the race.

Veteran Democratic political consultant Danny Briscoe, who declined to speculate on Grimes’ political future, said Grimes accepted the challenge when the “bright lights” of the party, such as Gov. Steve Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway, declined to take on McConnell.

“They were all asked to run and none of them wanted to do it,” he said. “She stepped up.”

Democratic consultant Jim Cauley, who ran Beshear’s 2007 election campaign, agreed that Grimes will gain from her decision to run against McConnell. Former Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo saw a similar boost after he mounted an unsuccessful campaign against former U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning in 2004, he said.

“Democratic primary voters in that race in 2007 appreciated the fact that he stepped up and took on Jim Bunning, and yes, I think the base, I think in a primary that matters they appreciate her stepping up,” Cauley said. “Whether or not that’s enough to get her to 50 (percent of the vote) in the fall, I don’t know.”

He continued: “Steve did 5 points better every time we said Beshear-Mongiardo instead of just Beshear for governor. We tested it. Daniel got a lot of credibility among Democratic primary voters for running against Bunning.”

But Cauley said his advice to Grimes would be to run for a second term as secretary of state rather than seek a higher office like governor. That would allow her to take a breath after a grueling Senate race instead up jumping headfirst in what would be another fistfight for the Democratic gubernatorial nod, he said.

With Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul considering a presidential run, she could reemerge as a Senate candidate in 2016, he said.

“The question is how much does she want to bite off?” Cauley said, noting she faced little primary opposition in her Senate bid and Conway, the lone Democrat in the gubernatorial field, has already raised $1.1 million for his campaign.

He also noted a recent Bluegrass Poll, conducted by SurveyUSA for The Lexington Herald-Leader, The Courier-Journal, WHAS-TV and WKYT-TV, that showed half of 704 respondents said she should not seek the governor’s office. Still, 50 percent of self-identified Democrats in the poll said she should.

“Not everybody’s going to be in love with you in a primary. The Democrats won’t coalesce behind her completely, so do you have the stomach to take on a gubernatorial primary to then dive back into a Republican statewide race where already before she even lost, 50 percent said they don’t want her to run. Those are some daunting mountains she’d have to climb.”

Conway, speaking to reporters Thursday, said he and Grimes have already spoken about the governor’s race and he would be “shocked” if she decided to run.

“She and Andrew, I think, are going to take some time and decide what’s best for them, but Kentucky needs to hold onto Alison Grimes,” Conway said. “She’s a real talent, and she should not be too down about that.”

He reflected on his own political career, noting he lost to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul by 11 points in 2010, then won reelection as attorney general by 10 percent.

“I don’t know that I suddenly because 20 points more popular, but you’re able to do things in a state race and focus on Kentucky issues and what you’re getting done for the people of Kentucky in a way that’s very close to them, and you don’t have to answer to all the macro trends and the winds that are blowing out of Washington,” Conway said. “So Alison can and will rebound, and I want to help her do that.”

Should she pass on the governor’s race as a top-of-the-ticket candidate, Grimes could decide to enter the field as a running mate for those still weighing their options. Stumbo, who has said he’s considering the race but will announce his intentions after leadership races in January, is a close friend to Grimes’ father, former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan.

But Stumbo said the two sides haven’t discussed a potential slate.

“I’ve never even remotely had that conversation with her,” he said. “… I’ve not had that conversation with her father either.”

Grimes may also run for attorney general, an office many speculated she would seek before she launched her Senate bid.

That would pit her against Beshear’s son, Andrew Beshear, and reignite the Beshear-Lundergan feud that dates back to the patriarchs’ battles for a Fayette County state House seat in the 1970s. The younger Beshear has stocked his campaign with nearly $1.5 million.

Gov. Steve Beshear said Thursday he had not discussed a potential attorney general race with Grimes but, like others, said she has a bright political future ahead of her.

“I certainly understand how she’s feeling right now,” said Beshear, who lost to McConnell by nearly 13 points in 1996. “I’ve lost two statewide races myself, so it’s not fun at the moment to be in that position, but she’s a strong person, she’s a great candidate, she’s a good public servant, and I think she’s got a bright future at whatever she wants to do.”

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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