Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Where the race stands, six weeks before the election
By Anthony Pendleton and Megan Ingros
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
Information for this story was also contributed by Paige Hobbs, Cheyene Miller and Tyler Spanyer.
In less than two months, Kentucky voters will head to the polls to vote in the election for the U.S. Senate. Incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell is facing off against national Democratic newcomer Alison Lundergan Grimes.
This is arguably the most important and most-watched race in the nation. McConnell, 72, is the Senate minority leader, meaning he’s the top official of the party that has fewer members in the Senate. He is expected to become majority leader if the GOP wins enough seats to take control of the chamber.
Grimes, 35, would be Kentucky’s first female senator, and the state’s first Democratic senator since 1999. She is Kentucky's secretary of state – a position she won in 2011, her first elected public office.
As the state’s chief election officer, Grimes got the legislature to approve changes to help overseas military voting, but the new law does not allow soldiers to vote electronically, as she wanted. Grimes also started a program that allows victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to "remove their addresses from public voter registration records in an attempt to stay safe from their abusers," as described by the Lexington Herald-Leader.
McConnell says his leadership job puts him in the middle of every big decision in Washington, and that he will be even more powerful, as majority leader, if Republicans take control of the Senate. Grimes wants McConnell’s long history in Washington to be viewed as a liability, by painting him as an architect of Washington gridlock.
Over the course of his nearly 30-year Senate career, McConnell is best known nationally for his fights against limits on campaign contributions and spending. In a secretly recorded talk in June, he said the 2001 passage of the McCain-Feingold law limiting donations to political parties was “the worst day of my political life.”
McConnell’s big issue in this race has been coal, blaming Environmental Protection Agency regulations for the loss of mining jobs in Eastern Kentucky. Disinterested observers have noted other factors, especially cheap natural gas that has displaced coal as an electric-generating fuel.
McConnell has identified Grimes with President Obama, who is unpopular in Kentucky, based largely on her statement during her 2011 campaign that she supported the national Democratic platform. That seems to be working for him, as he has built leads in coal-bearing Eastern and Western Kentucky.
Grimes has replied with an ad saying “I’m not Barack Obama. I disagree with him on guns, coal and the EPA.” She also talks about coal miners’ safety and health, and her campaign has called McConnell’s record on those issues “deplorable.”
The underlying issue is jobs. Kentucky’s unemployment rate remains higher than the rest of the country, and both candidates promise to promote job growth in the state.
Grimes has tried to make much of McConnell’s remark, when asked in Beattyville what he would do to bring jobs to Lee County, that “Economic development is a Frankfort issue. That is not my job.” McConnell has said he was in Beattyville to discuss jobs, and did so in a speech after the reporter left.
Grimes has focused on economic issues such as equal pay for women -- but has been unable to keep a clear lead among female voters – and raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour over three years, from $7.25.
McConnell, citing a report from the Congressional Budget Office, has said raising the wage to that level would cost half a million jobs, but has also said there might be circumstances in which it could be raised, after the economy improves more.
McConnell wants to repeal the federal health-care reform law while Grimes wants to delay its coverage mandate and make other changes. She says McConnell’s approach would risk the coverage of 521,000 people who have obtained it through the state exchange established under the law.
On immigration, Grimes supports the bipartisan, comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate and would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. McConnell has said only legal residency is needed to attract needed workers, and immigration reform should be done through separate bills after the border is secure.
Grimes and McConnell have had one joint question-and-answer session, before directors of the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation. KET will host a debate between them Oct. 13. The debate will not include Libertarian David Patterson, a 43 year-old Harrodsburg police officer who didn’t get his name on the ballot until August.