An independent blog about the 2014 contest for U.S. senator between Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and Libertarian David Patterson. By students and their instructor in a special journalism course at the University of Kentucky.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Coal, jobs, health care dominate the only real debate
Brenton Ward, Cheyene Miller, Tyler Spanyer, Ben Tompkins and Megan Ingros University of
Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Coal, jobs, and the
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were the major subjects of Monday
night’s debate between Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic
challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Grimes, McConnell and moderator Bill Goodman before air.
The hour-long debate on KET reflected
the course of the race, in that Grimes spent most of her time attacking McConnell,
and McConnell did likewise with President Obama, trying to link Grimes to him.
The candidates swerved around many questions,
avoiding definitive stances and leaving Kentucky voters unclear of the
Perhaps the best example of that was
discussion of the health-care law, generally known as Obamacare.
reiterated that he wants to repeal it “root and branch,” but he was pressed to
say what he would do with Kynect, the state health-insurance exchange created
under the law, which he repeatedly called a website.
what would happen to Kynect if the law were repealed, he said, “The state
exchange can continue it if they want to. . . . States can decide whether or
not to expand Medicaid, and our governor has decided to expand Medicaid.”
Obamacare funds subsidies for
private insurance bought through the website. It pays the entire cost of
Medicaid for newly eligible patients through 2016, falling to a floor of 90
percent by 2020.
Pressed about whether he would support
the continuance of Kynect, McConnell said, “That’s fine, yeah, I think it’s
fine to have a website.”
Grimes, asked how she would vote on
a bill to repeal Obamacare, said, “There is work that we have to do to fix the
Affordable Care Act, but we have to have a senator that actually realizes what
the realities are here in Kentucky, and the fictional fantasy land that Mitch
McConnell is in, doesn’t show the statistics here in this state.”
Earlier, she said, “This is a matter
of standing up for 500,000 Kentuckians” who have obtained coverage through
Kynect.” She added, “I will not be a senator that rips that insurance from
their hand.” But she offered no new specifics on how she would “streamline” the
The debate was dominated by economic
issues, which for both candidates included support of Kentucky’s declining coal
industry in the face of Obama administration regulations that would stop
construction of coal-fired power plants by putting limits on carbon dioxide, a
if the U.S. should take the lead in fighting climate change, McConnell said, “My
job is to look after Kentucky’s coal miners.”
said, “I recognize, unlike Senator McConnell, the realities of global warming, but
I do believe we have to take a balanced approach” that protects jobs and “leave
this world a better place.”
noted her endorsement by the United Mine Workers of America and said she
supports measures to improve coal mine health and safety and guarantee miners’
McConnell said that Grimes’s first
vote in the Senate would be to re-elect as majority leader Democratic Sen. Harry
Reid of Nevada, who he said has blocked all legislation aimed at the anti-coal regulations.
He said Grimes broke her vow to raise the issue at a fund-raiser Reid held for
Grimes has said she raised the issue
with Reid privately. Last night, she said, “I did have very strong words for
Senator Reid regarding an energy policy that he is misguided on.”
McConnell said in the debate’s
opening exchange, “My opponent has spent most of her time trying to deceive
everybody about her own views.” Regarding her widely reported refusal to say
whether she voted for Obama, even though she was an Obama delegate to the 2012
Democratic National Convention, he noted that some Democratic officeholders
chose not to attend the convention.
Moderator Bill Goodman asked Grimes
why she has been reluctant to say how she voted. She replied, “Bill there’s no
reluctance. This is a matter of principle. Our constitution grants, here in
Kentucky, the constitutional right for privacy in the ballot box, for a secret
said that as secretary of state, Kentucky’s chief election official, she was
obligated to protect such rights. “I’m not going to compromise a constitutional
right . . . to curry favor with one or the other side, or members of the media.”
replied, “There’s no sacred right to not announce how we vote.”
candidates argued some facts in the debate, and their campaigns kept arguing
said a bill to allow refinancing of student loans was bipartisan, but McConnell
said it was not. Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst noted afterward that there
were 58 votes to end McConnell’s filibuster against the bill; the Senate has 55
Grimes repeatedly advocated raising
the minimum wage, but McConnell said that would cost too many jobs in a soft
economy and said it would be better to expand the earned-income tax credit for
the working poor. Hurst said McConnell introduced legislation to cut the credit
senior adviser Josh Holmes disputed Grimes’s charge that McConnell had voted to
keep tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas: “That’s received the worst possible
false rating in almost every publication that’s reviewed it, yet she continues
to talk about it.”
candidates agreed on at least one thing, that the greatest accomplishment of
the next six-year Senate term would be to bring more jobs to Kentucky.
McConnell said he would be better able to do that because “there’s a great
likelihood I will be the leader of the majority,” while Grimes said noted that
she had released a jobs plan and McConnell hadn’t.