With 2014 Senate race becoming a circus, Grimes must be a tightrope walker, Ky. Democrats say

07/08/2013 04:10 PM

Kentucky Democrats say that for Alison Lundergan Grimes to pull off the national upset of the 2014 elections, she’ll have to become a political tightrope walker.

She’ll have to raise money from national Democrats while simultaneously distancing herself from the leaders of the national party. And she’ll have to craft a broad message that appeals to a wide swath of Kentucky voters while reaching into the precinct level to spark grassroots support and avoid intra-party squabbles.

“My suggestion would be to go directly to the grassroots. She certainly has the ability to raise money…in my opinion (she should) go down into the precinct level of each respected county, and select co-chairs,” former state Sen. David Boswell told Pure Politics. “So many counties are fractionalized.”

Boswell represented Daviess and McLean counties in Western Kentucky, a region in which a majority of voters are registered Democrats who have increasingly been voting for Republicans especially in federal races.

But even nailing down a network of local leaders will be difficult when not all Democrats are enthused about the high-profile Senate race while they have re-elections to consider.

State Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Mt. Sterling, said that he’s remaining “neutral in the race” as he concentrates on his own re-election.

Henderson said the Eastern Kentucky area he represents is conservative and that if Grimes wants to compete, she should develop a grassroots strategy.

“They want to see someone’s face, that’s the most important part,” Henderson said. “As an opponent to an incumbent she would probably be better suited working that way than in mass media.”

Among the chief challenges Grimes will face is the unpopularity of Democratic President Barack Obama in Kentucky, said Democratic Rep. Jim Gooch of Providence.

Obama received only 38-percent of the vote in Kentucky, and McConnell and outside Republican groups that have been running ads already are trying to link Grimes to the president.

Still, Gooch said that Grimes is an “excellent candidate.”

“The tough thing is that a person can distinguish (herself) from president, but when they rely so much on the Democratic Party for money… that’s a fine line she’ll have to walk,” Gooch said.

Former Madisonville Mayor Will Cox said coal will be a pivotal issue in Western Kentucky. And that’s an area McConnell will try to tie Grimes to Obama, whose Environmental Protection Agency has been criticized for imposing policies that have made it difficult for new mine permitting, particularly in Eastern Kentucky. But the coal industry, overall, has banded together to blast Obama.

“She’ll certainly have to be ready for that and certainly better be able to explain her position and how it differs from President Obama,” Cox said.

So far, Grimes has been reluctant to answer many policy issues from reporters, taking only two questions during her announcement for Senate last Monday.

While Obama might be a familiar foil for McConnell, Boswell said Grimes could be able to effectively respond to it.

“She is not connected without a doubt – - other than association by party affiliation. Her family actively supported Hillary Clinton (in the 2008 primary),” Boswell said. “It’s all a matter of spin, and she’ll have to counter it at the grassroots level.”

Grimes has to appeal to a cross section of Kentucky voters, something her campaign staff says she should easily be able to accomplish.

“Alison is a Democrat that can communicate all across the commonwealth and she will have a strong presence in every area of the state,” said campaign spokesman Jonathan Hurst when asked how Grimes’ campaign will try to reach voters in western and eastern Kentucky where Republicans have made gains.

“You will see similar to the Secretary of State race where she performs very well in all areas of Kentucky,” he said.

Grimes faced fellow Democrat Elaine Walker, the former Bowling Green mayor who was Gov. Steve Beshear’s pick as secretary of state in the 2011 Democratic primary. That contest was another chapter in the long-running feuds between the Lundergan and Beshear clans dating back to when Beshear supplanted Grimes’ father Jerry Lundergan in a state House seat in the 1970s. Still, Grimes walked away with 85,436 votes to Walker’s 69,186.

In the General Election, Grimes more handily defeated Republican Bill Johnson carrying 60 percent of the vote, and she was the top vote-getter among Democrats in the election — getting even more than Beshear.

But Democratic officials, regardless of how optimistic they are about Grimes’ chances, all agreed on one point: going up against a notoriously tough campaigner like McConnell will be nothing like Grimes’ secretary of state races.

“It will be unique, super tight and nasty,” Henderson said, “to say the least.”


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