Saturday, December 20, 2014

Grimes's deceptions became strong secondary factor in her loss, McConnell's campaign manager says

By Tyler Spanyer
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The deceptions of the Alison Lundergan Grimes campaign compounded Sen. Mitch McConnell’s attacks on President Barack Obama, and those were the two key factors in the U.S. Senate race, McConnell campaign manager Josh Holmes said in an interview.

Holmes said the outcome of the race was determined when Grimes refused to say if she voted for Obama. He said the McConnell campaign encouraged journalists to ask the question, and her response “ kind of felt like she wasn’t giving you the whole truth.”

The vote gaffe was in the news for more than a week, and “sealed it” for McConnell, Holmes said.

He said it validated the idea, advanced by the McConnell campaign and journalistic fact-checkers, that Grimes wasn’t being straight with the voters.

The key to this race, according to Holmes, was the inability for Grimes to define herself in the public eye. “We were trying to tell our story, because that’s what a campaign is all about,” said Holmes. “Meanwhile she was just throwing stones, instead of attempting to define herself to the voters.”

 For example, in the first round of Grimes ads that questioned McConnell’s voting record, “The advertisements were well designed,” Holmes said. “They were creative and interesting, but the facts were just wrong. Everything about that was perfect, but the research.”

The first of these ads was highly ridiculed by fact-checkers because it incorrectly said McConnell had voted to increase Medicare beneficiaries’ costs. McConnell just played it cool saying, “That’s the oldest, most cynical attack in the Obama playbook.”

Even though the ad was ridiculed for being false, Grimes released more questionable commercials. Glenn Kessler, “The Fact Checker” of The Washington Post, named one as one of the “biggest Pinocchios of 2014.” Kessler noted that an earlier, similar ad had already hit the top of his falsehood scale.

“The Democratic candidate who unsuccessfully challenged McConnell stood in front of the camera and made statements that she must have known are false,” Kessler wrote after the election. “Her central claim — that McConnell had pocketed $600,000 from anti-coal groups — had already earned four Pinocchios. The statement was based on money earned by McConnell’s wife, much of which came from being on a board of bank that finances coal companies. So the ‘anti-coal’ moniker was bogus.”

Holmes, 35, had been McConnell’s chief of staff for more than three years when McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton was forced to resign in the wake of allegations involving misconduct by Ron Paul’s last presidential campaign in Iowa. This left Holmes with running a “presidential level campaign,” as McConnell had described it, for the home stretch.

“The McConnell chief of staff typically has a very heavy hand in the campaign,” said Holmes. “So I was prepared to take that next step. We wanted to run an aggressive campaign and that’s what we did.”

Holmes said of McConnell, “He said to me the most important word in the English language is focus, you just can’t lose sight in what your ultimate goal is.”

The McConnell campaign was record-breaking. According to Holmes, the campaign knocked on over a million doors, a number “no one has come close to.” Add that into the 70 total TV advertisements that it ran and it was a campaign that could rival even some of the most successful presidential campaigns.

“At one time in September, we ran 17 different advertisements in one week,” said Holmes. “Compare that to the 2012 Obama campaign, which ran 24 advertisements in one week.”

The obvious difference here is that the McConnell campaign was a statewide campaign, while the Obama campaign was nationwide. Holmes said most of the advertisements were regional, “so that when you looked out your car window you saw what the ad was talking about.”

So what’s next for Holmes, the campaign managing superstar? He said he doesn’t know, but what he does know is what his wife would think about him running a presidential campaign: “My wife would kill me.”

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Politico writers on C-SPAN discuss McConnell campaign

John Bresnahan and Manu Raju, Politico correspondents who wrote a long story about Sen. Mitch McConnell's re-election victory, discussed his campaign Sunday night on C-SPAN's "Q and A" with Brian Lamb. Some tidbits:

McConnell had a preliminary game plan for the race all the way back in 2010. When faced with the possibility of a primary challenge from millionaire Matt Bevin, his consultants showed Bevin's consultants ads they would run, and did run the day Bevin filed his candidacy.

"Think about that," Raju said. "No one had ever heard of Matt Bevin in Kentucky and Mitch McConnell took him seriously enough" to make a six-figure ad buy on the first day of the race.

On the other side, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and her father, Jerry Lundergan, met with movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg before she became a candidate, seeking wanted assurances of money.

The morning of the day Grimes entered the race, she told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that she wasn't running, then met with supporters and announced. From the start there was a disconnect between her and Guy Cecil, executive director of the DSCC.

Grimes wasn't a good candidate, the reporters said, though not in so many words. "She was never able to really define herself," Raju said. "It was not clear what she stood for, what she actually believed."

McConnell campaign manager Josh Holmes has said that Grimes's refusal to say whether she voted for President Obama sealed her fate. "Who do you think advised her to do that?" Lamb asked.

"Everybody denied it was them giving her that advice," Raju replied. "It was a really curious decision." He said that when he asked Grimes in January if she would vote for Obama again, she replied  "Your facts are mistaken" but wouldn't explain herself.

Bresnahan said, "Democrats up on the hill were just flabbergasted that she would say something like this. . . . "I've talked to some African American lawmakers who were kind of incensed by the whole thing." As for McConnell, "I'm surprised he didn't start laughing in the middle of that debate."

Grimes's repeated jabs that McConnell had grown wealthy in office "got under his skin," Bresnahan said. McConnell's campaign produced an ad showing McConnell shopping at Kroger and driving a modest car but didn't use it because a focus group didn't believe it.

The program also included two segments of an interview Brian Farkas of C-SPAN did with McConnell two years ago but has never aired. (It will soon on C-SPAN3, Lamb said.) In one segment, he talks about Henry Clay, author of major compromises over slavery before the Civil War.

Lamb asked if McConnell will be a compromiser as majority leader. "That's going to be the big question," Raju said: how much he tries to unite his caucus and how much he tries to attract Democratic support.

Student liked the course, but was disillusioned by his interviews with voters on Election Day

By Ben Tompkins
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Recently, students in a special journalism course covering Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race were staged at various precincts to interview voters about who earned their vote and what had shaped their decision. Prior to this course, I had no previous experience with political reporting, nor had I considered political reporting as a career. While our class has received paramount leadership from the co-instructors, Al Cross and Bill Goodman, conducting the interviews at the polls reinforced my stance that political reporting is not for me.

Let’s start from the beginning. The first half of the course was informative and there is no doubt in my mind that the excellent reporting skills that we’ve been taught from our instructors, and the A-list guest speakers they’ve hosted to speak to the class, have expanded upon my versatility as a journalist. Mike Ruehling, Scott Jennings, Sam Youngman and John David Dyche are among a handful of decorated professionals in their respective industries that have come and made our class smarter with each and every assertion made and question answered. The 26-plus years of experience and insight that Al Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, and Kentucky Educational Television’s Bill Goodman provide to the course is second to none.

Stories on immigration and other situation pieces, follow-up interviews from the Bluegrass Poll, debate stories, and advertisement analyses have pushed my limits and forced me to grow as a reporter. The work that we turned in prior to Election Day was the facet of political reporting that I enjoyed. Professor Cross told the class that it was stories such as our situation pieces that made the difference in educating voters. The story that I wrote on immigration was written to present both sides of the story, covering stances from both sides of the aisle.

Stories like that were aimed at allowing voters to read valuable and informative information so they’d be able to sift through the rhetoric and stretched truths dominated in political advertisements. We were making a difference through our reporting and through the hard work that Professor Cross and a few of the students put into keeping the public informed on our blog. Then came the post-election interviews.

Standing with my blue Papermate pen, yellow legal pad and iPhone 6 outside Meadowthrope Elementary in Lexington, interviewing random voters about whom they had voted for and why, it became clear that a startling number of citizens – startling to me, at least – had no idea why they voted the way they did or what had factored into their decision.

Jeremy Stilz, a 30-year-old Democrat, said he had voted for Alison Lundergan Grimes not because he agreed with what she stood for, but because she wasn’t Mitch McConnell.

“Not necessarily who, but who I was voting against. I more voted for her [Grimes] as a way to get him out – the lesser of two evils kind of thing. It’s time for a change, he’s [McConnell] he’s had far too many terms and I feel like if you’ve had that much time in office you have a lot of knowledge about how to – not necessarily corrupt but change things for yourself instead of the actual agenda that you should be there for.”

When I asked Stilz what issues he felt like McConnell had failed to deliver on, he was unable to give me an answer usable for the purposes of a quote or story. He began to blame the gridlock on McConnell but was unable to put in words what he was trying to express; he didn’t know what the gridlock was or what it meant whatsoever. I had to finish his sentence for him and clearly that’s not what a reporter should do – lead someone to making a decision or statement.

Another man, Frank Monroe, a 62-year-old engineer, went on a tangent about candidates and Washington as the machine. When asked why he voted for Grimes, Monroe replied, “The incumbency of Mitch McConnell. They sit on a stump and tell you ‘I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that,’ until they get up there and become a part of the part of the machine. And you’re either a part of the machine or you throw a monkey wrench in the gears, but if you do that, you’re not going to last. That’s just how it is, everybody knows it.”

The cynical, poor taste that voter interviews post-election left in my mouth made me re-evaluate my enthusiasm for political reporting. I love presenting those around me with information that makes them think, grow and evolve – it’s why I’m working to become a journalist. However, hearing voters like Frank and Jeremy speak on what issues had shaped their decision (or the lack thereof), made me feel as if the work that I had completed in the previous months wasn’t as significant as I had thought.

I interviewed 10 voters on Election Day, certainly not a large enough number for a representative sample. It is not my contention that most people simply get in their car and drive to the polls without the slightest indication of who they like, but the people I interviewed had a difficult time explaining why.

Phyllis Ackerman, a 72-year-old Republican and retired administrative assistant, said she had voted for McConnell on every ballot but his first campaign. But when I asked what it was about McConnell that she liked, the only answer she could muster was his experience. She said that to her, McConnell was simply the best choice, but when pressed to explain, she was unable to express in words what exactly that meant.

While I realize that this experience isn’t representative of all voters, nor should this read as an indictment of them, the fact remains that a surprising number of citizens drive to the ballot box widely uneducated and complain months later when they are unhappy with the elected leadership. If there is one thing that I have no patience for, it is ignorance, and my experience with post-election voter interviews was exactly that – decisions made with no logical explanation of a how or a why.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The man who made himself the third major player in the race wouldn't mind if candidates had more control

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Scott Jennings, a man who has benefited greatly from the new era of campaign finance, says he wouldn’t mind going back to the old system, when candidates had the power.

Scott Jennings (Courier-Journal photo)
The former political director for Sen. Mitch McConnell ran two organizations that aired one of every seven television commercials in McConnell’s recent race with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, delivering a one-two combination that made him the third major player.

But he told a University of Kentucky journalism class the covered the race that he would prefer a system where candidates had more control over paid messages than they do now.

“The system, as it has evolved since I first started in politics, now offers outside groups the opportunity to speak as much or more than candidates in some cases because of the contribution limits placed on campaigns,” Jennings elaborated in an email after speaking to the class.

“The current system almost guarantees that a significant amount of money will be spent in major elections on behalf of candidates who cannot legally control the message generated by that spending. I think democracy is more vibrant when people are free to speak in elections; I just think it's kind of silly that candidates themselves – the people brave enough to put their names on the ballot – can’t influence some of the messages that will ultimately be delivered to their benefit.”

Jennings’s two groups, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition and Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, spent at least $20 million in the Senate race, more than Grimes reported raising. 

He pointed out that this was the first campaign for a federal office in Kentucky since the 2010 Citizens United ruling, which gave corporations and unions the right to make unlimited campaign contributions.

He said the 2014 Senate race was comparable to the 2012 presidential election, in which each candidate had both a campaign committee and an affiliated “super PAC,” an independent political action committee that cannot legally coordinate with the campaign, but can raise and spend unlimited sums of money from both individuals and corporations on behalf of that candidate.

The exact amount Jennings spent is unknown because the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is a social welfare organization, which under 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code cannot spend its money primarily on politics.  

Jennings said most of  the KOC’s money was spent on "issue ads," which don't call for viewers to vote one way or another and thus aren’t considered political.

As a 501(c)(4) organization, KOC does not have to reveal its donors, but Jennings said the vast majority of its money came from out of state. That was also the case with Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, which is registered under Section 527 of the tax code and does reveal its contributors.

The two biggest players for Grimes were the Senate Majority PAC, affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which spent a combined total of $7,830,234, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ compilation (at of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.  Jennings noted that out-of-state political operatives ran both committees.

"Combined, they got to roughly what Kentuckians for Strong Leadership spent,” Jennings said. According to, KSL spent $6,409,617 on the race.

Grimes benefited from $1.34 million in labor-union spending, but it was fragmented, which Jennings said is one of the problems with outside spending. "It can become extremely ineffective," he said.

Jennings said that nationally, Democrats were more successful raising super PAC money. However, Jennings successfully played the role of third major player in the Kentucky race, Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst told the journalism class this week.

Hurst said that while McConnell was focusing on defeating Tea Party-backed Matt Bevin in the Republican primary, the Grimes campaign had to deal with attacks from Jennings and his organizations, who were already pounding the idea of Grimes being President Obama’s Kentucky candidate. 

In Jennings, McConnell “had an ally, a third-party ally that could then come in and deal with us as he dealt with Bevin,” Hurst said. “It played a major part in the race.”

Jennings was so influential in the race that the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition became the focus of an Oct. 29 report from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C. It said “No other group has had a larger footprint in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race.”

Jennings said the campaign-finance landscape has changed greatly since his first campaign in 2000, and “I'm sure legislators and courts will wrestle with these questions again in the near future. For political operatives like me, you just play by the rules as they exist in any particular election.”

He added, “I strongly support the right of anyone to donate to political candidates and organizations. And I think it's a good thing when we have a free flowing marketplace of ideas.”

Saturday, November 15, 2014

McConnell: 5 to 10 Democratic senators appear ready to vote with GOP on some issues; EPA still top target

By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said Saturday that half the senators who have called him since his re-election have been Democrats, giving him hope that he can create bipartisan coalitions as the chamber's new majority leader, especially to block Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

McConnell at meeting
"They're anxious to be under new management, where their work has a chance to be heard, and we're going to do that," McConnell told a meeting of the state Republican Party Executive Committee, adding later, "It's apparent that a number of the Democrats have had it up to here with Barack Obama themselves." He told reporters later, "I think they're getting a little bit tired of doing the president's bidding."

"That's the good news," McConnell told his partisans. "The bad news is, I haven't heard anything from the president since the election that indicaytes he has an interest in changing anything." He added later, "I keep waiting for Obama to get the message and move to the center."

He said to applause that just as Obama has declared "war on coal," he will "declare war on EPA."

McConnell made clear during his campaign that he would use budget bills to keep the agency from pursuing proposed limits on carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, but he said there are issues other than coal: "There is a widespread anger over the country" about EPA's overreach, he said. He told reporters later, "Coal is the most conspicuous example if it, but it's happening in a lot of other areas."

The other example he cited is EPA's proposal to redefine "waters of the United States," a seminal phrase in the Clean Water Act, in ways that have confused and angered many agricultural interests.

Republicans will hold at least 53 of the 100 seats in the new Senate, and McConnell said "I'm pretty optimistic" that a 54th seat will go their way after a Dec. 6 runoff in Louisiana. Asked if he thinks he can assemble the 60 votes that he said would continue to be needed to pass significant legislation, he said "I think there's a pool of five to 10 Democrats" who could create a center-right coalition.

McConnell said that number may become clearer after the Senate votes next week on the bill that would order completion of the Keystone XL oil-sands pipeline from Canada to U.S. refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. "We don't know," he said, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has prevented votes on such legislation, including coal issues. Here's a video clip from cn|2's "Pure Politics":

Whatever bills the Republican-controlled Senate and House may pass, Obama could veto, and McConnell has said that Republicans will not shut down the government by holding appropriations bills hostage.

Asked if GOP leaders might authorize continued operation of essential government services but exclude EPA from that, he said the question was too hypothetical to answer. Asked if a bill that combined a number of issues could get the 67 Senate votes needed to override a veto, he said "I have no idea."

He told the party committee that he expects to have the "bourbon summit" with Obama that has been discussed since the president said he would like to meet with the senator over Kentucky's most famous beverage, but "Whether it's anything beyond a p.r. gimmick remains to be seen."

He concluded his remarks to the committee by saying, "It's harder to be the offensive coordinator than the defensive coordinator . . . It's a responsibility I welcome, and I'm going to carry it out as best I can."

McConnell then told reporters, "I'm going to be more inclined to judge him by what he does than by what he says. I don't want to minimize this opportunity for the country." He said many items that need attention, such as a long-range transportation plan and regulation of government-sponsored financial enterprises, "are not all that partisan." Here's a cn|2 video:

McConnell reiterated that he will support Sen. Rand Paul if he runs for president, but said Paul would certainly seek re-election in 2016. State law bars someone form being on the same ballot for both offices, and Paul's camp has suggested a way around that would be to replace the Republican presidential primary with a caucus. McConnell said he had given no thought to that idea.

That issue would be decided by the party committee that McConnell addressed first.

The senator said that since he was speaking to a room full of "political junkies," he wanted to mention a few exit-poll results; the one he highlighted was that he won the votes of women by 3 percentage points even though he had a female challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes: "I think we successfully made the argument to women that while gender's not unimportant, it's not the only reason to cast a vote in an election."

The crowd appreciated McConnell's digs at Bill and Hillary Clinton, who campaigned repeatedly for Grimes and may think that Kentucky is on the list of states she can carry in the 2016 presidential race. "I don't think she'll ever be competitive in Kentucky," he said. "This is not 1992 or 1996," when her husband won the state with pluralities, the last one 0.9 percent of the vote.

Friday, November 14, 2014

McConnell elected Senate majority leader

After defeating Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes last week to win his sixth term, Sen. Mitch McConnell was elected by his fellow Republicans to serve as Senate majority leader when the new Congress begins in January.

Republicans were able to obtain a majority after this year's midterm elections, unseating at least eight Democratic senators, with a runoff in Louisiana this December making Sen. Mary Landrieu a likely ninth and giving the new majority party 54 of the 100 seats. Democrats have held on to their majority in the Senate for the last eight years, while Republicans have held control of the House of Representatives since 2011. McConnell has served as minority leader since 2007.

As majority leader, McConnell will set the agenda for the Senate, scheduling when bills are brought to the floor and voters are taken. During his campaign, McConnell often spoke of his presumed position to leader if he were reelected, and his experience and position were often mentioned by voters on Election Day and afterward.

Lexington accountant Patrick Cox, 48, said in an interview after voting that he initially considered voting for Grimes, but ultimately chose McConnell. "His experience, probably, and his experience in the Senate, that's was probably what made me stick with him," Cox said.

McConnell's Democratic counterpart in the Senate and the current majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, was also re-elected  by his party and will serve as minority leader in the next Congress.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

McConnell says he's for Paul, but is mum on plan for 2020; reiterates vow to go after anti-coal regulations

Photo by J. Scott Applewhite, AP
"There were only two things Mitch McConnell didn't want to talk about Thursday — whether he will run for re-election in 2020 and his eventual legacy," Sam Youngman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader after scoring the first one-to-one interview after the senator's re-election.

The big news from the story is that McConnell said he would support Sen. Rand Paul for president if he decides to run: "We've developed a very tight relationship, and I'm for him. . . . Whatever he decides to do. I don't think he's made a final decision on that. But he'll be able to count on me."

But when it comes to the 2015 Republican primary for governor, McConnell told Youngman he won't take sides, citing his failed endorsement of Trey Grayson against Paul in 2010. "I've learned my lesson there," he said. "That clearly was a mistake. We all make them, and that's one if I had to do over again I would."

McConnell reiterated that his top priority for Kentucky is "to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in" from its proposed limits on carbon-dioxide emissions, which would effectively ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants, a major goal of President Obama. "It will be hard because the only good tool to do that ... is through the spending process, and if he feels strongly enough about it, he can veto the bill," McConnell said.

"As he rattled off the coal-producing counties he won Tuesday for the first time in his career, McConnell said he feels a 'deep responsibility' to stop the Environmental Protection Agency" from regulating CO2 to combat climate change, Youngman reports.

"I'm absolutely convinced from the people I talk to around the country, not just here but around the country, that coal has a future," he said. "The question is whether or not coal is going to have a future here. It's got a future in Europe. It's got a future in China, India, Australia. But not here? . . . It makes me very angry, and I'm going to do everything I can to try to stop them."

For another Youngman story on McConnell's view of dealing with Obama, click here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Exit poll shows Grimes won women by 5 points, but McConnell won men by 19, and independents by 15

The exit poll in the Senate race showed that women favored Alison Lundergan Grimes by 51 percent to 46 percent, but men supported Sen. Mitch McConnell by an even larger margin, 58-39.

"That was the key to the McConnell victory in a race that quite rankly many people thought would be close," John King said on CNN.

But perhaps just as indicative of the outcome was the poll result among the 19 percent of voters who said in the exit poll that they are independents. Among them, McConnell won 54-39.

McConnell's leadership position and potential also figured into the vote. Asked if party control of the Senate was important to their vote, 86 percent said yes. McConnell carried that group, 55-43.

Grimes carried self-described moderates 52-44, but McConnell carried conservatives 87-10. Grimes carried liberals 81-16, but they were only 19 percent of the electorate.

Grimes ran hard on raising the minimum wage, and she appeared to win among people with annual incomes under $30,000, 53 percent to 41 percent. But McConnell won all other income groups. When grouped above and below $50,000, voters under that figure were evenly divided.

Grimes apparently carried only one age group, those voters 25 to 29, and her 52-43 margin among them was not certain because they only made up 9 percent of the electorate. McConnell's best age group was voters in their 40s, which he won 63-34.

One of the best predictors of a person's vote by party is how often they attend religious services, and the national pattern was reflected Tuesday. McConnell ran away with those who attend at least weekly (they made up 48 percent of the electorate) while Grimes appeared to win among occasional worshippers and the 13 percent who said they never attend services.

Among the approximately half of the electorate who identify as white evangelicals or born-again Christians, McConnell won 68-30. Grimes won the rest 55-43.

Gun-owning households (64 percent of the electorate) went for McConnell 6630, while those without guns went for Grimes 61-37.

McConnell won all the regions identified by the poll except his home Jefferson County, which he lost 57-41. The poll report on CNN did not give the margin of error for such sub-samples or the overall poll.

McConnell's main theme was to tie Grimes to President Obama. King noted that 62 percent in the poll said they were angry or dissatisfied with the Obama administration, and McConnell won that group, 80-17. Grimes carried those who were satisfied or enthusiastic, 84-14. Forty percent said Here's a video of King's report on the poll's preliminary results, some of which vary from the final numbers:

McConnell scores historic victory; here's how national news media see it (and the Grimes campaign)

Rounding up the national coverage:
McConnell and wife Elaine Chao (Photo: Win McNamee, Getty)
  • Jennifer Steinhauer of The New York Times captures the broad meanings of the result and packs a lot into 51 words: "Mitch McConnell, the taciturn leader of the Senate Republicans who overcame childhood polio and decades of political conflagrations to become the longest-serving senator in Kentucky’s history, cruised to re-election Tuesday. With his party winning control of the Senate on the same night, he fulfilled his decades-long dream of becoming majority leader."
  • McConnell worked at helping other Republicans get a majority. In early September, he "called a longtime colleague, Sen. Pat Roberts, from his living room in Louisville, furious about the 78-year-old Republican’s fumbling and lethargic reelection campaign," Phillip Rucker and Robert Costa of The Washington Post report in a long story explaining how the GOP won. "McConnell had in his hands a private polling memo predicting Roberts would lose in Kansas — an alarming possibility that could cost the GOP a Senate majority. McConnell was blunt. A shake-up was needed. Roberts unleashed a flurry of expletives at McConnell. Ultimately, though, the ex-Marine gave in" and fired his campaign manager. He won.
  • Rucker and Costa report what close Kentucky observers knew about Alison Lundergan Grimes and her father, Jerry Lundergan: "Although Grimes exhibited strength as a candidate, Democrats in Washington thought her campaign was troublesome. Lundergan, a former state Democratic Party chairman and owner of a catering empire, ran the operation. Grimes prioritized staffers with local knowledge and rejected the national party’s recommendations on hires and advice about messaging. . . . Democrats who had been otherwise impressed with Grimes’s performance were agog at her refusal to say whether she voted for Obama in 2012."
  • Manu Raju and John Bresnahan of Politico also reveal some behind-the-scenes stuff: When Matt Bevin was considering a primary challenge to McConnell, an operative for the senator showed Bevin's top consultant what attacks ads on Bevin would look like. "Bevin didn’t listen. And McConnell went to war. The day Bevin announced his primary bid, the McConnell campaign made good on its threat and aired a six-figure ad buy slamming his new opponent as 'Bailout Bevin,' setting the tone for a primary battle where the tea party candidate never got the traction he needed."
  • In their very long story, Raju and Bresnahan also reflect the view of many observers in Kentucky, that Grimes failed to "take advantage of the McConnell-Bevin primary fight and try to woo disaffected moderate Republicans." Despite Grimes's shortcomings, her campaign manager, Jonathan Hurst, "insisted the outside money that Republican groups spent late in the campaign was the decisive factor, and that Grimes overperformed in 'the worst terrain' of any Senate Democratic challenger. The story also explores the campaign's massive voter identification-and-persuasion operation and the changes made when "senior adviser" Josh Homes moved form Washington to Louisville and effectively became campaign manager.
  • Chris Cillizza of "The Fix" column in the Post explains "Why Mitch McConnell always wins:" He knows his shortcomings, he's always had a good political team; "He's always prepared. . . . He attacks, and doesn't apologize," and "He represents Kentucky," which "has grown more and more conservative."
  • Perry Bacon of NBC News said on this morning's "Daily Rundown" on MSNBC that when McConnell speaks to reporters in Louisville at 2 p.m., "the big thing to watch for" is the set of issues on which he wants to make progress: "Entitlement reform? Is it energy? Is it taxes? Bacon noted that in speaking 50 minutes before Obama is scheduled to appear, McConnell is putting the president in the position of responding to him. "McConnell now is more in the driver's seat."
  • Sarah Mimms of the National Journal writes "What to Expect from Mitch McConnell's Senate." The first big test of his leadership may be extension of the national-debt limit, early in 2015.
  • McConnell is the second Kentuckian to become Senate majority leader, a title that did not exist when Henry Clay dominated the Senate a century and a half ago. Democrat Alben Barkley of Paducah was majority leader from 1937 to 1949, when he became vice president under Harry S Truman.
  • For KET videos of the speeches by Grimes, McConnell and others, click here.

Grimes was short and not sweet in her concession

By Brenton Ward
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes kept her remarks brief Tuesday night as she conceded the U.S. Senate election to incumbent Mitch McConnell. 

Grimes did not mention or congratulate McConnell in her three-minute speech, instead using her last appearance of the race to repeat the issues she had hoped to take to with her to Washington.

“My hope is that a message has been sent to Congress, that we need to work to increase the minimum wage, to close the gender pay gap, and bring good paying jobs back to the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” she said.

On stage with her husband and Gov. Steve Beshear, Grimes tried to elevate a clearly unenthusiastic crowd of about 200 people outside The Carrick House in downtown Lexington.

“While tonight didn’t bring us the result that we had hoped for, this journey, the fight for you -- it was worth it,” Grimes said. She added later, “This fight was for each and every one of you, and I will work my hardest to keep this amazing organization that we have built together intact to fight for a brighter and better future.”

Grimes has served as Kentucky’s secretary of state since 2012, defeating a Democrat whom Gov. Steve Beshear appointed to fill a vacancy, then easily winning the general election. She became the Democratic nominee for Senate after receiving 77 percent of the votes in a four-way primary with token opponents.

Grimes called McConnell to concede within the first hour after polls had closed in Western Kentucky. The Associated Press called the election for McConnell minutes after those closings. He went on to receive 56.2 percent of the vote to 40.7 percent for Grimes and 3.1 percent for Libertarian David Patterson.

While running on the Democratic ticket, Grimes went to great lengths to distance herself from President Obama, going so far as refusing to say whether or not she voted for the president in 2008 and 2012.  McConnell’s campaign often tied Grimes to Obama in speeches and advertisements.

Grimes said she disagreed with Obama’s coal and gun policies, and was endorsed by the United Mine Workers of America and other labor unions, as well as Kentucky’s largest newspapers, The Courier-Journal and The Lexington Herald-Leader.  She also brought in high-profile Democrats, primarily former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to campaign for her. 

McConnell wins by 15.47 percent of the vote

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell was elected to his sixth term Tuesday night, defeating Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes with 56.2 percent of the vote in unofficial returns. Grimes got 40.7 percent and Libertarian David Patterson 3.1 percent.

With this victory, and Republicans’ defeat of Democrats in some other Senate races, McConnell is now in place to become the new Senate majority leader, replacing Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

In his victory speech in Louisville, McConnell thanked voters for their support, telling them their calls for help will be heard in Washington.

“They’ve put their trust and confidence in me for a long time,” McConnell said. “And I want to thank them tonight.”

McConnell had been urging voters in recent weeks to make him the “offensive coordinator of the U.S. Senate,” saying that as minority leader he had been “defensive coordinator.” 

“Tonight Kentuckians said we can do better as a nation,” McConnell said.  “Tonight they said we can have real chance in Washington, and that’s just what I intend to deliver.”

Sen. Rand Paul spoke at the event, calling the victory a “repudiation of President Obama’s policies.” Even before the decisive Senate races were called, Paul called McConnell a defender of Kentucky coal, Kentucky jobs and the “next majority leader of the United States Senate.”

“Tonight we’ve witnessed a great victory for Kentucky, and for the country,” Paul said.

McConnell became the Republican nominee in May after defeating Tea Party-backed businessman Matt Bevin, and since then focused his campaign on linking Kentucky Secretary of State Grimes to President Barack Obama.

This tactic gained steam, particularly after Grimes continuously refused to answer whether she voted for Obama though she had been an Obama delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

During the race, McConnell put much of his focus on coal, criticizing the environmental policies of the Obama administration. 

McConnell also said during his campaign that he wants to lead a “root and branch” repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, while maintaining that Kentucky could keep its online health insurance marketplace Kynect.

McConnell opposed Grimes’s call for a raise in the federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 an hour and $2.13 an hour for tipped workers.

McConnell and his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, complimented Grimes and her campaign.

“She should be commended for putting herself forward, and giving the people of Kentucky a real choice,” Chao said.

McConnell said, “She earned a lot of votes, and she earned my respect. It took a lot of guts to take on a race like this. Because of the business we’re in, it also meant she’d take some heat. I admire her willingness to step into the arena and fight as hard as she did. We need more people who are willing to do that, not fewer. She deserves a lot of credit for it. This was a hard-fought contest. ”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Candidates' experience and Grimes's ties to Obama matter to voters in one Lexington precinct

By Paige Hobbs
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Votes appear to be steady across the state of Kentucky today as the U.S. Senate election takes place between Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The candidates’ amount of experience and ties to President Obama seem to be the biggest factors for those at the Duke precinct polling place at Morton Middle School on Tates Creek Road in Lexington's Chevy Chase neighborhood.

For some, McConnell’s 30 years of experience and differences with President Obama are a positive qualities. For others, the fresh face and inexperience of Grimes is more appealing, as are her similarities to Obama.

Marilyn Chillery, 67, a retired education administrator, said that she voted for McConnell and that Grimes's lack of experience greatly influenced her vote. “I like what he’s done. . . I think he’s doing a good job," she said. “She doesn’t have the experience.”

Jennifer, a 53-year-old teacher who declined to give her last name, agrees and said she too voted for McConnell: “I think he’s done a good job and I can’t imagine when he’s getting ready to be in such a strong position why we would risk that.”

Others were concerned about ties to Obama. Claire Hanson, 43, a stay-at-home mother, said she voted for McConnell simply because “she’s a big supporter of Obama and I’m not a big supporter of him or pretty much anything he stands for.”

Others see it differently.

Mark and Ann Bjork, University of Kentucky professors, said they voted for Grimes. He said "She's for the people" and "He's really locked up the senate."

She said, "He's been 30 years of an idiot," and "started out saying the main thing we want to accomplish" is dedying Obama a second term. "We're very strong Obama. . . We're crazy about Alison."

Sarah Adams, a 36-year-old teacher, agrees that McConnell has been in office too long and said she voted for Grimes. “I feel like Mitch McConnell has been in office for a very long time and I think it would be good to have a fresh face. She seems very driven and I feel like she could do a good job.”

This race has been one of great interest to voters across the Bluegrass, as it has been tight throughout most of its run. Tonight from 7 to 10 p.m. Eastern time KET will have election results and analysis.

Monday, November 3, 2014

McConnell and Grimes fly around the state

By Cheyene Miller
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made his first stop in Louisville for his “Countdown to Victory” fly-around tour with fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, urging voters to make him the “offensive coordinator in the U.S. Senate,” his term for majority leader.

“Victory is in the air and we’re going to bring it home tomorrow night,” McConnell told a crowd of supporters at Bowman Field in Louisville Monday morning, one of several stops designed to get news coverage and turn out the vote. Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes is doing likewise.

McConnell told his supporters that they had the chance to make a Kentuckian majority Leader, and that as “offensive coordinator” he and his team would “put points on the board and take America in a different direction.”

Paul, a top Republican hopeful for president in 2016, praised McConnell’s history of protecting the First Amendment, and said a McConnell victory would help lead to a “repudiation of President Obama’s policies.”

McConnell said Paul, who is often described as a libertarian, was “literally beginning to redefine what the Republican Party should be.”

McConnell was introduced at the event by former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who called herself the “proud wife of the next majority leader of the United States Senate” and said he and Paul give Kentucky the most powerful senators of any state.

Attendees at the event, including Kentucky Motorcycle Association member David Newman, were moved by the words of McConnell and Paul.

“We’re a freedom-loving group, and Senator McConnell has been a good friend of our issues for years,” which are “pretty much ‘leave us alone’,” said Newman.  “We want to retain him in the Senate position, and also have him step up as the Senate majority leader.”

Getting down and dirty on Election Eve

Election Eve roundup, which will grow as the day goes along:
  • "A stealthy coterie of difficult-to-trace outside groups is slipping tens of millions of dollars of attack ads and negative automated telephone calls into the final days of the midterm campaign, helping fuel an unprecedented surge of last-minute spending on Senate races," report Nicholas Confessore and Derek Willis of The New York Times. "Much of the advertising is being timed to ensure that no voter will know who is paying for it until after the election on Tuesday." The story doesn't mention Kentucky, but a friend of ours in West Kentucky, a white man in his early 60s, said he got about 10 phone calls Sunday, most favoring Republicans, including one with a woman's voice "threatening 'African danger' from Ebola and to vote against Obama," he wrote in an email.
  • The Alison Lundergan Grimes campaign issued a web ad aimed at turning out women voters. It consists of a minute and 25 seconds of clips from Hillary Clinton's speech to a Grimes rally in Louisville, concluding with, "Let's put another crack in that glass ceiling and elect this incredible young woman to the United States Senate."
  • Want a last look at Libertarian David Patterson? Benjamin Siegel of ABC News has a short story.
  • The Election Law Society of law students at the University of Kentucky have started a blog related to the election and will set up in the law school's faculty lounge (Room 252) at 3 p.m. Tuesday to provide commentary and field questions through the evening.
  • UK journalism professor Al Cross discussed the election with Bill Goodman on KET's "One to One" Sunday and John Gregory of the network has five major points from the conversation.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Grimes tears up as she talks about billionaires; Public Policy Polling has her 8 points behind

A Sunday evening roundup that will go into Monday . . .
  • Alison Lundergan Grimes teared up today as she urged supporters to get out the vote to overcome the influence of "millionaires and billionaires," who presumably have financed the political committees that have put her at a decided financial disadvantage. “You, you are people who can’t be bought,” she told "the largely union crowd here, her voice breaking slightly and her eyes welling with tears," Jay Newton-Small reports from Henderson for Time magazine. The Grimes campaign circulated the story in a press release that said "Alison is leaving it all on the field."
  • Grimes plans to stop Monday in Pikeville, Somerset, Bowling Green, Paducah, Ownesboro, Newport, Louisville (at the Center for African American Heritage), her birthplace of Maysville and her home town of Lexington. Sen. Mitch McConnell also has a fly-around to Louisville, Northern Kentucky, Lexington, Hazard, Paducah, Owensboro and Bowling Green.
  • A survey taken Oct. 30 through Nov. 1 by Public Policy Polling showed McConnell with 50 percent, Grimes with 42 percent and 3 percent each for undecided and Libertarian David Patterson. The poll's error margin was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.
  • McConnell has bought more than $1 million worth of TV commercials "with four different closing-argument commercials — all with targeted messages aimed at appealing to the tastes of viewers in those individual Kentucky media markets," Manu Raju reports for Politico. The ads in Western Kentucky tout McConnell’s work for cancer screening treatments at an industrial plant in Paducah and helping with fishing rights, while the spots in Eastern Kentucky vow to win the “war on coal” and help displaced coal miners. In the Lexington and Cincinnati markets, the ads highlight McConnell helping a woman locate her abducted daughter. And in Louisville, McConnell promotes his efforts to help an aluminum plant that was shedding jobs while also saying he’s “inspired” by an activist helping women who were victims of violent crimes."
  • If McConnell wins by a strong margin, he could have coattails that would turn the Kentucky House Republican for the first time since 1921 and perhaps guarantee passage of a "right to work" law that bans union contracts that require workers to pay dues or fees, Mike Elk reports for Politico. Several other Republican measures would be in play, University of Kentucky journalism professor Al Cross noted in his column last Sunday.

Leading Ky. political scientist gives views on the race

UPDATE: Here's a video of Voss discussing the race.

Dr. Stephen Voss of the University of Kentucky is perhaps the state's leading political scientist, and the one most quoted in stories on the Senate race. He is the latest poli-sci guy to answer and comment on a series of questions about Senate races from the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank. Here are some excerpts:

"Although Grimes had some success convincing voters that she might be better for the coal industry than McConnell, especially in the mountainous region of Eastern Kentucky, the issue remained tilted toward the Republicans throughout the contest. The sluggish economic recovery also served as a backdrop to the 2014 Kentucky Senate campaign. Kentuckians might be conservative on social and cultural issues, but they do not especially tilt to the right when it comes to domestic economic policy. It's a poor state, and many Kentuckians rely on national social-welfare policies to get by." However, "Turmoil in Syria and Iraq, as well as at the southern U.S. border, helped keep attention directed away from bread-and-butter economic matters."

"Kentucky contains a disproportionately large number of swing voters who were in play for the Senate election. . . . These relatively moderate, if not conservative, voters tend to be registered Democrats but they often side with the Republicans in national elections, and many seem to have no loyalty to either side. . . . The McConnell strategy therefore was simple and straightforward: Do anything and everything to link Grimes to the President. . . . McConnell and Grimes appear to be splitting these swing voters fairly evenly, depending on how they're defined, but Grimes needed a much better share than that to compensate for the conservative tilt of the state's partisans." (Read more)

Poll gives McConnell clear lead; Republicans have outspent Democrats on TV by margin of nearly 3 to 2

Sunday is not a day of rest for campaigners and dedicated observers:
  • A Marist College poll taken for NBC News Friday, Oct. 31 is the first reliable, independent poll to give Sen. Mitch McConnell 50 percent of the vote and a lead outside the margin of error. The survey gave Alison Lundergan Grimes 41 percent and Libertarian David Patterson 5 percent, with 3 percent of self-described likely voters undecided. The poll's initial question, about President Obama's job approval, may have skewed the results slightly; Obama's rating was 32 percent approval and 60 percent disapproval. McConnell's favorable-unfavorable was 44-49; Grimes's was 42-47. The poll's error margin was plus or minus 4.2 percent.
  • "A senior party official" called McConnell "on Saturday at his Louisville home and, after running through voting projections, told Mr. McConnell that he would be the next majority leader. Mr. McConnell’s initial reaction was only a long pause," reports Jonathan Martin of The New York Times. McConnell has dreamed of being majority leader for a very long time, perhaps virtually all his adult life.
  • Republicans have bought about 29 broadcast TV ads in the Senate race for every 20 commercials run by Democrats, according to near-final calculations by the Center for Public Integrity, reported by Adam Beam of The Associated Press. "Altogether, Kentucky's Senate candidates and interested parties have spent more than $33 million on TV ads, and that's a low estimate. It does not include the money spent on polling to come up with the ads or production costs to make the ads. And it does not include ads on local cable. McConnell's campaign has outspent Grimes' campaign by about $2 million. But the big advantage for McConnell comes from two super PACs, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition and Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, that have spent a combined $8.2 million on ads for McConnell. Grimes' biggest source of outside help came from the $2.4 million worth of ads from the Senate Majority PAC," overseen by Democratic Leader Harry Reid. For the latest data from the Center for Responsive Politics, click here.
  • Here's an image of the controversial mailer that McConnell and the Republican Party of Kentucky sent to voters in Eastern Kentucky:
    Inside, the mailer says, "Dear Citizen: This document serves as a notification to you, as a resident of Kentucky and a registered voter in the aforementioned commonwealth, of fraudulent information that is being deliberately spread to voters in your area. The information that has been red-flagged as 100% false is being purposely spread by the campaign of the federal candidate named below: Alison Lundergan Grimes. With the campaign for United States Senate nearly complete, Alison Lundergan Grimes has chosen to launch an advertising campaign that independent sources prove is filled with blatant lies intended solely to deceive Kentucky voters." Grimes has filed suit seeking an injunction to stop use of the mailers. UPDATE, Jan. 26: In the Campaigns & Elections magazine contest, the piece "won five awards, including 'best direct mail piece for 2014,' Sam Youngman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The mail piece, produced by the Lukens Company, also won for 'best direct mail piece for Republican statewide candidate,' 'best mail piece for a bare-knuckled street fight victory,' 'toughest direct mail piece' and 'most daring and successful tactic'."
  • Here's the inside of a mailer that the Kentucky Democratic Party has sent African Americans, promoting protests from the McConnell campaign:
  • Grimes's campaign said it would seek judicial action against the mailers.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

As Grimes' odds lengthen, Hillary Clinton rallies supporters; reporters look at spending and lies

Hillary Clinton urged a crowd of 1,200 at Transylvania University in Lexington Saturday to work hard at getting out the vote for Alison Lundergan Grimes, who "will need every bit of that enthusiasm on Tuesday to have a chance at pulling the upset of the political cycle," Sam Youngman writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader, noting political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg's change in rating for the race, to "Republican favored" from "lean Republican." (Herald-Leader photo)

Earlier in the day, Clinton and Grimes rallied at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights. "This redundantly named city is a wonderfully symbolic place for the starting point of a campaign's final weekend," The Courier-Journal's James R. Carroll writes. If Grimes upsets Sen. Mitch McConnell, "She would be launched into the political heights in Kentucky and in Washington."

On the other hand, "McConnell's re-election, all by itself, would cement his place as one of Kentucky's most important political figures and extend his record as the commonwealth's longest-serving senator," Carroll writes. "McConnell at the very least would remain the leader of the Senate Republicans, a position that has given the Kentuckian the power to frustrate and derail many Obama initiatives. But if the Republicans do well in other states on Tuesday, McConnell would occupy that highest spot on Highland Heights, as Senate majority leader."

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., seems to think McConnell is going to win re-election, Niels Lesniewski reports for Roll Call. He told Iowa liberal activists in a phone call that “What [Republican nominee] Joni Ernst would mean, coming to the United States Senate, is that Mitch McConnell would be the leader of the Senate, someone who agrees with her on virtually everything,” Reid said.

In his Sunday column, The C-J's Joseph Gerth says $80 million will be spent on the race. "With all due respect to my friends in the television industry whose employers saw this election as a huge cash cow, it's a ridiculous amount of money that could have been spent in much more noble pursuits than making voters think the worst of one's opponent," Gerth writes, giving some examples, ending with: "It's $50 for every vote that is expected to be cast next week." He also says, "The Center for Responsive Politics reckons that $78 million had been spent by the middle of last week and that doesn't count the millions of dollars in 'issue' ads that are intended to influence the race but aren't counted in the total because they don't expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate. It will be among the most expensive U.S. Senate races in U.S. history and it will happen in one of the nation's poorest states."

John Cheves of the Herald-Leader picks "the seven biggest whoppers" of the race: McConnell's "Kynect is just a website;" Grimes's repeated claim that McConnell got rich from office; the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition's claim that Grimes supported "Obama's amnesty plan;" both sides' claims that the other would wreck Medicare; and both sides' claim that the other hates coal.

Carroll, Gerth and C-J colleague Tom Loftus report on the day's events and look forward to the end of the race: "Grimes will keep up with the blistering pace with a total of 23 stops in 21 counties between Saturday and Monday. The 72-year-old McConnell, on the other hand, appears to be coasting, with only 11 stops in 10 counties over that span — with most of those stops coming Monday when Sen. Rand Paul joins him on the trail."

McConnell says he's against privatizing Social Security, but now he says Kynect really is only a website

A rolling roundup that will grow as the final weekend moves along . . .
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell "said Friday he is not in favor of privatizing Social Security, even if he becomes the new majority leader of the U.S. Senate," Ronnie Ellis reports for CNHI News Service. “I don’t know anybody in favor of privatizing Social Security and I never heard anybody even suggest it, certainly not myself,” McConnell told reporters at an event in Lexington. For the previous week, he had declined to reveal what plans he might have for Social Security, and "Grimes’ campaign has criticized McConnell for what it says have been conflicting statements on measures to privatize Social Security, going back to the administration of Republican President George W. Bush," Ellis writes. "McConnell said it’s a standard Democratic practice to raise alarms about Social Security late in elections."
  • McConnell went farther than he may have intended in talking to the editorial board of the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville (which endorsed him) about the health-insurance exchange the state created under Obamacare, saying that "Kynect is a website. That's all it is." In the KET debate, McConnell only implied it was merely a website. To that, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who created it, said: "Mitch told Kentuckians he'd keep the website up, while pulling the plug on federal funding, tax credits, and tearing down a marketplace that has made Kentucky a model of success for the nation." For the New Era's transcript of the interview, which was published last weekend, click here.
  • Both campaigns are complaining about the other side's mailers. Grimes is suing the state Republican Party, and the McConnell campaign says it's exploring its legal options, Nick Storm reports for cn|2's "Pure Politics."
  • In his column for The Courier-Journal, University of Kentucky journalism professor Al Cross looks back on 30 years of covering McConnell and wonders what he will do if he becomes majority leader, the post he has sought for so long.
  • McConnell gave the weekly national radio address for the Republican Party, saying a GOP majority in the Senate could end Washington gridlock.

Friday, October 31, 2014

National news media taking a final look at the race; Kentucky campuses holding mock election

A rolling roundup as we head into the final weekend . . .
  • "Kentucky's Senate race, one of the most closely watched in the country, boils down to which Washington insider is worse in the eyes of voters:" Sen. Mitch McConnell or President Obama, writes Francine Kiefer of The Christian Science Monitor. Stephen Voss, a political scientist at the University of Kentucky, summed it up for Kiefer this way: "We have an unpopular senator who leads the resistance against an unpopular president."
  • "McConnell’s path to victory runs through the hilly coal fields [sic] in the east, the buzzing sheet metal factories along the state’s southern tier and in the barns leaking with pouring rain in the flat and cow-spotted western farmland," Jason Horowitz of The New York Times writes after traveling with McConnell through those areas. "At the end of his 14 campaign rallies and hundreds of miles lined with falling orange and ocher autumn leaves, Mr. McConnell seemed to have reached a better, less anxious, place."
  • McConnell seems to be a little looser than usual as the race comes to a close. He told 85 business and political leaders at a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce meeting, "The American people have seemed to reach the conclusion they have had enough of this crap," meaning "six years of Democratic control of both the presidency and the Senate," reports Amanda Van Benschoten of The Kentucky Enquirer.
  • The Kentucky Campus Compact, comprising colleges and universities in the state, is holding a mock election online. The site also has links to overviews of the race, a voters' guide, the KET debate, a debate fact check, this blog and information about voting, campaign finance and polling places. The site is co-sponsored by the Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement at Northern Kentucky University, the Campus Election Engagement Project and the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro.

Issues stories include one on student loan debt

Students in the "Covering the U.S. Senate Race" course in the University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications have continued to write stories about issues in the U.S. Senate race, and some have been published by the Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper at UK. Tyler Spanyer's story about the issue of student loan debt is here; for stories on coal, immigration and the economy and jobs, click here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Final Bluegrass Poll shows McConnell ahead by 5 points, 'devastating news' for Grimes, UK prof says

Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell "has opened up a five-point lead over Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes and appears well positioned to win a sixth term, according to the final Bluegrass Poll before Tuesday's election," Sam Youngman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader, a sponsor of the Oct. 25-29 survey.

"The poll found that 48 percent of likely voters plan to vote for McConnell while just 43 percent plan to back Grimes. Three percent said they are voting for Libertarian David Patterson and 6 percent said they haven't made up their minds," reports Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal, the other major sponsor. "While the results are within the poll's margin of error of 4.1 percentage points, McConnell's lead shows that he has the momentum in the race's waning times. Grimes, meanwhile has gone from being 2 percentage points ahead in the poll to 5 behind."
Herald-Leader graphic
"The Bluegrass Poll has been the one independent source indicating that Grimes might be on target to win this Senate race, so having the numbers turn against her is devastating news," University of Kentucky political science professor Stephen Voss told Youngman. "President Obama is clearly the albatross hanging around Grimes' neck. He is incredibly unpopular in Kentucky, and if anything, in the last several weeks attitudes toward him have only worsened."

"After four Bluegrass polls showed McConnell falling below 80 percent among likely Republican voters, the senator appears to be solidifying his base," Youngman writes. Eighty-six percent now say they will vote for McConnell," up from 78 percent in mid-October.

"The biggest problem for Grimes appears to be the negative ads that outside groups have used against her," Gerth writes. "The poll found that only 37 percent of registered voters have a favorable opinion of her, while 43 percent have an unfavorable opinion of her. That almost mirrors McConnell's 37-44 favorability gap." For the full poll results, click here.

Herald-Leader gives big play to nonprofit's story about 'dark money' group's big help for McConnell

Here's what we have time to post in a whirlwind of activity . . .
  • A nonprofit group that was taken over by a former aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell has aired one of every seven television commercials in the Senate race, most of them attacking Alison Lundergan Grimes, with millions of dollars from donors it will not disclose, the Center for Public Integrity reports, in a story that the Lexington Herald-Leader placed on its front page. UPDATE, Oct. 31: National Journal's Alex Roarty and Shane Goldmacher show how the rules against coordination between such groups and candidates is easily circumvented.
  • NPR reports that conservatives criticized McConnell for telling Neil Cavuto of Fox News that Republicans would not be able to repeal Obamacare because they will not have 60 votes in the Senate. "McConnell said that with a full Obamacare repeal impossible, he would instead push to repeal the law's tax on medical devices — which a number of Democratic senators already support — and to narrow its mandate on which workers must be covered."
  • McConnell primary foe Matt Bevin "came as close as he has to endorsing" McConnell at a quiet gathering of conservatives in Jeffersontown Wednesday night, the Herald-Leader's Sam Youngman reports. "Bevin tried to warm up the subdued audience," saying that any thinking about voting for Grimes should "think again." He added, "There is nothing being brought forward by the Democratic Party in this state that is good for Kentucky. Nothing." Still, Youngman writes, "He continued to be cagey about backing McConnell. . . . Asked after his speech whether that was an endorsement of McConnell, Bevin snapped, 'You've got ears.'"

    Read more here:

    Read more here:
  • Former president Bill Clinton is appearing in Louisville and Ashland today for Grimes. The first stop, at the Muhammad Ali Center, may help Grimes with African American turnout, which some black observers have said might be hurt by her refusal to say that she voted for President Obama; the second one will get coverage from West Virginia TV stations that serve the northern part of the East Kentucky Coal Field.
  • The Economist sums up the race, largely by looking at McConnell as the leader of a potential Senate majority, "as seems likely." If so, "a man few Americans would recognise if he sat next to them on a bus, will be one of the most powerful people in the world," the magazine says in an editorial.
  • Grimes pollster Mark Mellman, asked about the race at Bipartisan Policy Center event today, said "We’re not ahead. But we hope to be on Election Day." U.S. News & World Report's David Catanese notes, "Grimes’ team has furiously fought back at the notion that McConnell has pulled far ahead of them in recent weeks, but has not released its own internal polling by Mellman as it did back in September, when he showed the race tied."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sen. Elizabeth Warren returns; Grimes' ad on Paducah plant faulted; McConnell mum on Social Security plan

The final week begins . . .
Courier-Journal photo by John Sommers
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined Alison Lundergan Grimes for a rally tonight in Louisville, her second visit to the city for at attack on Sen. Mitch McConnell. "They repeatedly slammed McConnell for catering to the wealthy while opposing increasing the minimum wage, for opposing refinancing student loans and for opposing equal pay for equal work," Sebastian Kitchen reports for The Courier-Journal, adding that "a lively crowd of more than 400" was on hand. McConnell's campaign said Warren is wrong for Kentucky, calling Grimes' ties to the Massachusetts senator a "stark reminder of her loyalty to Obama." The campaign said Warren is a supporter of the war on coal, referring to her support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulations to limit carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants.
  • MSNBC reporter Irin Carmon reports enthusiasm for Grimes at an event in Calhoun, where "Grimes spelled it out: ‘I don’t have to pay you to be here.’" Carmon noted that "Grimes needs their enthusiasm, and their turnout muscle, if she is to upend the conventional wisdom that McConnell will hold on, and with him Republican control of the Senate." Carmon reports a crowd of of about 100 greeted Grimes in the town of 763.
  • "A new TV ad by Alison Lundergan Grimes that attempts to paint McConnell as uncaring is disingenuous,” The Paducah Sun said in an editorial. “The ad, which began running in the Paducah market a week ago, claims McConnell did little to help workers” at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, which enriched uranium for decades. The Sun says no one has worked harder than McConnell to help sick workers and keep the plant open. "Since 1999, Sen. McConnell has secured more than $1 billion in funding for the PGDP and its workers," the editorial said. The Sun goes on to cite numerous occasions of McConnell aiding the plant.
  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee started a TV ad in which retired Louisville teacher Estelle Bayer says McConnell "voted himself six pay raises and made himself a millionaire, and he opposes raising the minimum wage?"
  • The Grimes campaign announced today that Grimes has campaigned in all 120 Kentucky counties, wrapping up with Caldwell (Princeton). We were wondering why she went to several Republican strongholds in the last week or so.
  • McConnell asked TV stations to stop running the Senate Majority PAC ad attacking him on Social Security, contesting its suggestions that he profited from insider trading. WDRB-TV in Louisville, which generally has a conservative editorial policy, pulled the ad but reinstated it, saying it found the assertions to be factual, and other stations are still running it, liberal columnist Greg Sargent reports for The Washington Post. "The dust-up shows that Democrats are pushing hard to make Social Security privatization a sleeper issue," Sargent writes. He notes McConnell senior adviser Josh Holmes told Brian Beutler of The New Republic, "I don't think anyone is interested in reviving the '05 debate," in which McConnell favored privatization.
  • Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service reported after a McConnell rally in Campbellsville, "McConnell evaded reporters’ questions about whether as majority leader he’d support legislation to 'privatize' or change Social Security." On Thursday, "McConnell specifically touted his effort to push President George W. Bush’s plans to reform Social Security in 2005, which would have set up private accounts for retirees,” Joe Sonka of Insider Louisville reported then, adding: "Insider Louisville asked McConnell after the event if he would make a push for such reforms to Social Security if he was elected Senate majority leader and could set the agenda, but he declined to reveal if he would do so."
  • Ellis notes that Grimes says McConnell "supports tax breaks that encourage businesses to ship jobs overseas, but that message won’t get much support at Campbellsville Apparel, a textile company which supplies materials for federal government contracts and which employs a lot of folks who once worked at Fruit of the Loom — a company which moved jobs from Kentucky to Mexico." McConnell intervened to help the firm keep a federal contract, local officials said.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Bill Moyers suggests McConnell's campaign and his allies are illegally coordinating their election activities

In the last week, roundups will change often, so keep us bookmarked . . .
  • In an essay titled "How to buy an election," liberal journalist and commentator Bill Moyers questions whether Sen. Mitch McConnell has kept proper legal distance from "a constellation of outside groups" that are attacking Alison Lundergan Grimes in all sorts of advertising. He notes the senator's ties to several people who are playing key roles in those "supposedly independent" campaigns, like the one of the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, which has spent $12.4 million attacking Grimes, Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal reports. "Often the sharing of consultants and ad makers means that any 'fire wall' is merely symbolic," Moyers writes. "But there have been no consequences for these potential violations of federal law, because there’s been no enforcement of the law, thanks to partisan gridlock at the Federal Election Commission," fostered partly by McConnell.
  • Both candidates have started the traditional "closer" ads, in which they speak to the camera with a gentler message than most of their spots have delivered. McConnell has some real fun, ending with a bunch of bloodhounds to subtly recall the ads he rode to an upset victory over Democratic Sen. Walter D. Huddleston in 1984. It ends with him laughing, a rarity in an ad.

For an analysis of the Grimes ad, from Susan Davis of USA Today, click here.

  • Joe Arnold of Louisville's WHAS-TV reports on get-out-the-vote operations in both parties that may be the largest ever in Kentucky.
  • "Although they get little attention from candidates, white evangelical Christian voters are likely to be fundamental to any Republican victories in the key Senate races, especially in the South," Alistair Bell writes for Reuters. "Polling data shows evangelicals are more enthusiastic than the general population about the midterms," which Bell says "is striking given that Republican candidates have largely avoided evangelicals' pet topics like opposition to abortion and gay marriage for fear of alienating moderate voters." Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition says his group is doing its "most muscular" turnout operation ever. That includes voter guides like the one at the bottom of this blog post., another pro-McConnell group, also has a guide.
  • The outcome of the race depends on whether voters have less trust in Congress or in President Obama, writes Michael Memoli of the Los Angeles Times.
  • Ever since Libertarian David Patterson got his name on the ballot, observers have wondered which major candidate he would hurt. Bill Hayes writes on his blog, The Rural Democrat, that it is likely Grimes, if Patterson gets 4 to 5 percent of the vote, because recent polling has shown him gaining support among self-defined independent voters and her losing support among that group.