Friday, May 30, 2014

Roundup: R-leaning pollster shows McConnell ahead, perhaps solidifying base; useful data on coal views

Most news broke late today:
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell led Alison Lundergan Grimes 48 percent to 41 percent in a poll taken by Pulse Opinion Research for Rasmussen Reports Wednesday and Thursday, May 28-29. Seven percent were undecided and 5 percent chose another candidate. The results are within the stated margin of error, plus or minus 4 percentage points for each number, but the sample size of 750 should have an error margin of plus or minus 3.58 points, according to the standard calculation. The difference may stem from the fact that part of the sample was "randomly selected participants from a demographically diverse panel" who responded to an online survey. Rasmussen's presidential polls in 2012 leaned Republican by 3.7 points.The latest questionnaire began with the job rating for President Obama, which could have skewed the results of succeeding questions in a Republican direction because he is so unpopular in Kentucky: 60 percent in the poll disapproved of his work, while 38 percent approved. That was exactly the margin by which he lost Kentucky in 2012.
  • Rasmussen said in its poll report, "McConnell now has the backing of 76 percent of Kentucky Republicans and 27 percent of the state’s Democrats; 67 percent of Democrats and 18 percent of GOP voters favor Grimes. Voters not affiliated with either major political party prefer the Democrat by three points." Grimes has gotten more Republican support in earlier polls, so this survey could indicate that McConnell is solidifying his base after a divisive primary.
  • The poll provided useful background on voters' attitudes about coal, which appears likely to be next week's big issue in the race because Obama is planning to announce new rules for coal-fired power plants. Asked if the Obama administration is trying to "outlaw the coal industry," which it is not, 48 percent said it is, 28 percent said it is not and 24 percent were unsure. Among those who said yes, 74 percent favor McConnell; among those who said no, 82 percent favor Grimes. For the poll report, click here.
  • In their monthly update of the seven races they think will decide control of the Senate,  and  of U.S. News and World Report opine that Grimes won the month because she "delivered the standout speech" on primary night, and that she "is proving herself to be a more formidable challenge then the Senate minority leader might have expected."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Grimes hits McConnell on Kynect, and he stands his ground; will coverage go past 'She said, he said'?

In a statement to the Lexington Herald-Leader, the campaign manager for Alison Lundergan Grimes ridiculed her opponent's attempt to disassociate the state's health-insurance exchange from the federal law under which it operates: "Mitch McConnell has been in the fantasyland that is Washington for so long that he cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction," Jonathan Hurst said. "McConnell has voted to destroy Kynect — and he has said he will do it again. In the U.S. Senate, Alison Lundergan Grimes will fix the law to ensure it is working for all Kentuckians."

Sam Youngman of the Herald-Leader reports, "McConnell did not retreat from his stance Wednesday, noting through aides that states were free to set up exchanges before the health care law, as Massachusetts and Utah did, and would be free to do so after repeal of the law. . . . Democrats and state officials belittled that reasoning, noting that federal subsidies for expanded Medicaid eligibility and for private insurance plans bought through Kynect would vanish if the law was repealed."

Youngman writes that Grimes "belatedly seized . . . five days later" on McConnell's remarks about Kynect at a Friday press conference, and that the "back-and-forth . . . made clear the pitfalls both sides fear when discussing the controversial topic." The law "is not an easy line of attack for Grimes, demonstrated by the length of time it took her campaign to comment. Grimes has remained vague when asked about how she would fix the law, and last week, she twice refused to tell The Associated Press whether she would have voted for the law."

Asked yesterday by the Herald-Leader how she would fix the law, Grimes's campaign "referred the paper to the answer the campaign gave to The Courier-Journal for its primary election voters' guide," Youngman reports.

Greg Sargent, a liberal columnist for The Washington Post, said Hurst's statement "seems somewhat defensive. It again leans heavily on a vow to 'fix' the law, and doesn’t state flatly that Kynect is a policy success. Some Dems, such as Rep. John Yarmuth and pollster Celinda Lake, have suggested Grimes go further. Lake told me the other day that her polling has showed that Kynect polls positively in Kentucky, even as the law known as 'Obamacare' or the 'Affordable Care Act' remains under water. Lake suggests this to Grimes:  “She could say, 'In Kentucky, we got it right. I’ll take Kentucky values to Washington.'”

Lake is polling for Elisabeth Jensen of Lexington, the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 6th District, who ran radio commercials in April saying McConnell and congressman Andy Barr "voted to end Kynect and let insurance companies drop coverage, deny care and charge women more."

Sargent writes that he understands Grimes's reluctance to make Obamacare a major issue, but "McConnell’s sudden outbreak of evasiveness and incoherence about repeal — which is supposed to be nothing but a slam dunk winner for Republicans — is still a key moment in the debate, one that amounts to a concession that the GOP’s position on this issue is also seriously problematic." (Read more)

Sargent cites a blog post by McConnell critic Joe Sonka of LEO Weekly, who writes, "I’m making the assumption that McConnell knows exactly what he’s doing, banking on voters not knowing the difference between the unpopular 'Obamacare' and the very popular Kynect that would cease to exist in any recognizable form if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, and assuming the media in Kentucky will not explicitly point out that saying Kynect — and the health-insurance coverage of over 400,000 Kentuckians — can survive without the Affordable Care Act is a blatant lie. McConnell is looking for 'He said, she said' coverage on his spin, and he appears to be getting his wish inside Kentucky so far." In an earlier piece, Sonka wrote, "McConnell saying that Kynect can survive the repeal of Obamacare is like saying that the Oklahoma City Thunder can trade Kevin Durant, but keep his jump shot."

UPDATE: Alexandra Jaffe and Elise Viebeck of The Hill look at the issue under a story headlined "GOP health-care confusion" with this Getty Images picture of McConnell at the top: "Health-care experts have widely panned McConnell’s claims, with one calling him 'delusional.' But McConnell’s tap dance highlights the difficulty facing Republicans as they grapple with their message of repeal in the face of benefits the law is now delivering. Democrats have been slow to jump on the comments, a reflection of their reluctance to make Obamacare an issue, particularly in red-leaning states like Kentucky, where Obama remains deeply unpopular."

The story continues: "And if they can’t find a way in Kentucky, which boasts one of the nation’s most successful state-based exchanges, it's hard to see how they’ll manage to do it elsewhere, as a veteran state political reporter and University of Kentucky professor Al Cross points out: 'If there’s a strongly anti-Obama state in which there is a good argument for Obamacare, this is it. There is an argument to be made for the law, and the fact that the Democrats haven’t quite figured out whether to do it, or how to do it, illustrates the depth of the problem.' . . . In Kentucky, like other red-leaning states, the issue really is semantics: The law known as Obamacare polls worse than specific provisions or exchanges. 'It’s not that ObamaCare is all that unpopular; it’s that Obama is — and he’s three syllables of the four,' Cross said. 'And the number of syllables is probably indicative of the weight that his unpopularity gives to the subject matter.' . . . Democrats can argue that McConnell is at best dissimulating and at worst lying — and they have — but that requires them to draw the connection between the popular Kentucky Kynect and the unpopular ObamaCare. There, they risk wading into a debate on the Obama White House’s overreach and initial mismanagement of the law or also tainting Kynect’s popularity." (Read more)

Gov. Steve Beshear writes of McConnell on the Huffington Post, "At best, of course, his promise represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the ironclad link between the ACA and Kynect. At worst, it's a blatant attempt to mislead Kentucky families for his political benefit."

Both major newspapers have editorialized on the topic; The Courier-Journal said McConnell is "dodging questions" and Grimes is "excruciatingly vague," while the Herald-Leader said McConnell "has some explaining to do."

Roundup for Thursday, May 29

Today's non-Obamacare/Kynect news includes:

  • Common Cause Kentucky is asking the candidates to make an agreement designed to keep outside groups from spending money in the race, as the Senate candidates in Massachusetts did in 2012. Jack Brammer reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader, "If an independent group spends money to advertise on TV, radio, online or print supporting a candidate, that candidate must pay 50 percent of the cost of airing that ad to a charity of the other candidate's choice." Alison Lundergan Grimes's campaign manger said she was willing, but doubted that Mitch McConnell would. "The McConnell campaign appeared unwilling to sign," Brammer reports.


Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/05/28/3263685/group-challenges-grimes-and-mcconnell.html?sp=/99/322/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/05/28/3263685/group-challenges-grimes-and-mcconnell.html?sp=/99/322/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Roundup for Wednesday, May 28: new GOP poll

Today's news includes the first post-primary poll:
  • A survey by a pollster who has worked for Sen. Rand Paul shows Sen. Mitch McConnell leading Alison Lundergan Grimes 47 percent to 44 percent, with 8 percent undecided and an error margin of 3.95 percentage points (which applies to each percentage). Wenzel Strategies took the poll Friday and Saturday, May 23-24, the beginning of a holiday weekend, when most survey firms avoid polling, but the firm said the sample "was balanced for party affiliation, gender, regional population, race and age." The poll showed McConnell with a rating of 55 percent favorable and 42 percent unfavorable, "a significant positive bump, likely from his primary victory and the publicity it generated," pollster Fritz Wenzel said in a memo. Grimes's rating is also favorable, at 51-42. Asked if McConnell deserves re-election, the numbers were statistically even, but "he leads Grimes by a 41% to 25% margin among those who said they might be considering someone other than McConnell for U.S. Senate this November," Wenzel writes. "This segment of respondents only represents 15% of the electorate, but it will very likely be the class of voters who will decide this election." Detailed results are here.
  • Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal takes note on the paper's Politics blog of a false story about McConnell on "a satire site -- albeit not a very good one."
  • Joe Arnold of Louisville's WHAS-TV revisits the Obamacare issue in light of statements from Gov. Steve Beshear and McConnell's campaign, then asks on Twitter, "Does @Team_Mitch welcome criticism of Kynect 'not connected' comment b/c it highlights Obamacare as # issue?" Phillip Bailey of Louisville' WFPL also looks at the matter.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Roundup for Tuesday, May 27: Gender politics

After a long weekend, these stories bubble up:
Photo by Win McNamee, Getty Images
  • Slate, playing off a Grimes profile last week in The Washington Post, says in a headline that the race "tests how far Democrats can take the 'war on women' rhetoric." Amanda Marcotte writes for the "XX Factor" column research "shows that when attention is drawn to a female candidate's gender, especially her clothing choices, it tends to hurt her in the polls," except "when she's accusing her opposition of sexism," as Alison Grimes is. The caption for the Getty Images photo with the story says Grimes is wearing "a very effective dress."
  • In a look at top reporters covering Senate races around the nation, Hadas Gold of Politico finds some feeling in Kentucky that the state's two major newspapers lean opposite ways in news coverage: With Sam Youngman coming to the Lexington Herald-Leader "from Washington, some politicos said his stories tend to lean toward McConnell’s point of view, while others said it appears as though [Joe] Gerth and The Courier-Journal are looking to take down the Senate minority leader. . . . The reporter nearly every Kentucky politico mentioned at first, though, is [cable] station cn|2’s Ryan Alessi, who is leaving this summer to pursue a graduate degree, though he said he may continue freelancing during the election." We hope so!
  • Former Clinton administration trade official Ira Shapiro writes in an opinion piece on CNN.com, says McConnell has been the Senate's most destructive leader by doing "everything in his power to keep the Republicans in lockstep opposition" to President Obama. McConnell has said that if he becomes majority leader, he would try to make the Senate operate more like it did when Democrat Mike Mansfield held the job in the 1960s and '70s.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Memorial Day weekend roundup: Mailer for McConnell seeks women's vote on military sex-assault issue

A desultory collection over three days as things pop up:
  • Nick Storm of cn|2's "Pure Politics" reports on Friday's McConnell-Paul press conference as a "reversal of roles" from 2010, when McConnell forged party unity behind the insurgent Paul. The cn|2 reports are almost always interesting because they include video.
  • The presser lede from The Associated Press's Adam Beam: McConnell "wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but he would not say Friday what that would mean for the 413,000 Kentuckians who have health insurance through the state’s health care exchange." The Washington Post's headline over the AP story, based on McConnell's closing quote, has a hint of disbelief: "McConnell: Exchange unconnected to health law." As Beam writes, "The exchange would not exist if not for the federal law that created it."
  • Joe Gerth and Jim Carroll of The C-J point out that the two candidates have little in common, but share "a refusal to answer questions they don't like about the Affordable Care Act."
  • In columns, Gerth says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was correct to say "Coal makes you sick," and Carroll notes that McConnell's proposed "Lincoln-Douglas style debates" would differ considerably from those in 1858, and that McConnell has never given a challenger three televised debates.
  • Al Cross writes in his C-J column about the role of coal and women in the race, and says if McConnell is "serious about his stated desire 'to present our views fairly ... before Kentuckians are inundated with advertising, "He needs to be debating during the inundation, not just before it."
  • The importance of the female vote was shown by a mailer from the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a "super PAC" for McConnell that doesn't have to reveal its donors. It shows a woman in military gear and another with a child and says the senator "is working to ensure these brave women have the opportunities and support they need," mainly by voting for a bill that would take sexual assault cases out of the chain of command. See the mailer here.
  • Grimes and McConnell are in "a daily battle to define the race and each other," Joe Arnold of Louisville's WHAS-TV says in his report on the contest since the primary, in the latest edition of his weekly show, "Powers that Be." (Arnold refers to Grimes aide Jonathan Hurst as "campaign manager.)
  • Bill Barrow, an Atlanta-based writer for The Associated Press, writes that Grimes and Michele Nunn, nominee for an open Senate seat in Georgia, are among Democratic candidates "trying to figure out whether to embrace or avoid President Barack Obama's health care overhaul — or land somewhere in between." Neither will say how they would have voted on the law if they had been senators in 2010, and "Their refusals are overshadowing their endorsements of individual parts of the law that are more popular than the law itself." But Barrow's story also notes McConnell's difficulty with questions about the state exchange that has given 415,000 Kentuckians health insurance.
  • Ashley Parker of The New York Times profiles Mark Putnam, Grimes's media consultant: "Putnam, who worked on President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaign ad teams, has attracted a host of prominent Democrats running in red states this cycle."
  • How important was McConnell's financial advantage in his blowout of Matt Bevin? Probably not very, writes Kevin Glass on TownHall.com.

Friday, May 23, 2014

McConnell presses Grimes to say how she feels about Obmacare but won't bite on questions about Kynect

At his first post-primary press conference, Sen. Mitch McConnell pressed Alison Lundergan Grimes to clarify her position on the federal health-care reform law but wouldn't say whether his plan to "start over" on the issue would include shutting down the state's successful health-insurance exchange.

"She's been dodging it for a year," McConnell said Friday. "She's been in this race for a year. It's time for her to answer the question, "How do you feel about it?" Wednesday, Grimes twice refused to say how she would have voted on the 2010 law if she had been a senator.

McConnell speaks at half-hour press conference.
(Associated Press photo by Timothy D. Easley)
The topic arose when McConnell was asked to reply to Democratic assertions that his pledge to "pull it out root and branch" would end the law's insurance coverage for 415,000 Kentuckians through the state exchange.

The senator didn't answer directly. "This is another good reason why the two of us ought to have a real debate," he said, recalling his post-primary proposal for three Lincoln-Douglas-style debates by the middle of September.

Asked if he would dismantle the state exchanges created under the law, McConnell said he would have created a national market -- "tear down the walls, the 50 separate silos in which health insurance is sold" -- passed medical-malpractice reform, and allowed small businesses to "band together in this international [sic] market."

Asked again, specifically, if he would shut down Kentucky's exchange, which is branded as Kynect, he said "I think that's unconnected to my comments about the overall question here."

While polls have shown the law to be unpopular in Kentucky, a small plurality of voters in a recent poll had a favorable opinion of Kynect. Last fall, the Kentucky Health Issues Poll found that people who weren't sure how the law would affect them and their families had an unfavorable opinion of it, while those who said they did know how it would affect them had a favorable opinion.

In his overall comments about the law, McConnell said a Congressional Budget Office study has predicted that full implementation of the law would still leave 30 million Americans uninsured, covering only 10 million. "What is the cost-benefit ratio of this kind of destruction, this kind of impact, on 16 percent of the economy?" he asked. "The people of this state are entitled to know the answer to the question, 'How do you feel about it?' and I think my opponent has tried to dodge that question."

Asked if repealing the law would be his top priority as majority leader if Republicans take control of the Senate, he said he wasn't ready to say because he's not in the majority yet, "but I think it's reasonable to assume that would be a high priority for us." He noted that Obama will be president until January 2017, an implicit acknowledgement that Obama would veto any repeal and two-thirds votes of the House and Senate would be required to override him.

Other topics

Asked if he had reached out to defeated primary foe Matt Bevin since they talked Tuesday night, McConnell said he had not, but said he wasn't worried about unifying the party. He noted a November 2010 exit poll that showed 91 percent of Republicans voted for Rand Paul after a divisive primary.

However, that survey polled only people who voted. Sen. Rand Paul, asked why a tea-party supporter shouldn't stay home from the polls this fall, replied, "I think the people in the tea party will come out when they realize what a disaster it would be to have Ms. Grimes." Earlier, he said, "I think the party will pull together very quickly."

Grimes is trying to get the votes of Bevin supporters with an "open letter" to them. Asked what he thought of that, McConnell said, "I hope she'll spend all of her time trying to get Republicans to vote for her."

Roundup for May 23: McConnell says of vets secretary, 'I think it'd be time for him to go as well'

Going into the Memorial Day weekend, we have these stories:
  • Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal writes, "Alison Lundergan Grimes has split with the Obama administration in calling for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki in response to delays in treatment and falsified record-keeping." Gerth notes that Sen. Mitch McConnell called Monday for a change in "the management team" at VA and called yesterday for Grimes to support his bill that would "make it easier for the VA secretary to fire top-level civil servants responsible for mismanagement, delayed medical care or backlogs."
  • Mark Murray writes on NBC News' First Read makes Grimes' statement the leading example to show that "The Democratic dam is already starting to break" on the issue. The National Journal sees a "growing chorus of Democratic congressional candidates desperate to get some distance from the administration." It notes that "Grimes, whose first TV ad this year touted her work promoting military voting, was the first Democratic candidate to ask for Shinseki's resignation."
  • McConnell came closer to calling for Shinseki to resign, saying at a Louisville press conference with Sen. Rand Paul, "Obviously, Secretary Shinseki has not done a good job, but it's deeper than just him." Noting House passage of a bill to make it easier to fire VA civil servants for misdeeds, McConnell said, "I think it'd be time for him to go as well." What did that mean? Campaign Manager Jesse Benton said his candidate was trying to be diplomatic.
  • Burgess Everett of Politico reports on the presser: McConnell hasn't spoken to defeated foe Matt Bevin since Tuesday night; he and Paul say the party will unify; Paul used different tenses a few sentences apart: “We’re excited to have the Republican Party all pulling together for our nominee. . . . I think the party will pull together quickly.”
  • Everett also notes that Grimes "sent an 'open letter' to the 40 percent of Kentucky Republicans who did not vote for McConnell on Tuesday, insisting she shares the same 'fundamental views and important goals' of most Republicans: Cutting spending, balancing the budget and telling Washington to help Kentuckians or get out of the way."
  • Jason Millman writes on The Washington Post's Wonkblog about three states where federal health reform could be a decisive issue. "Kentucky is about as big of an Obamacare paradox that you could find: the state's exchange is working well, but Obamacare remains unpopular in the state," Millman writes. "It’s also home to one of the more successful Obamacare health insurance exchanges." He concludes, "Grimes may want to have a better answer the next time she's asked whether she would have voted for the health-care law."
  • The Lexington Herald-Leader opines that McConnell should accept Grimes's proposal that they strike an agreement to keep outside groups out of the race, as Democrat Elizabeth Warren and then-Sen. Scott Brown did in Massachusetts in 2012. That seems unlikely, since McConnell is expected to be the beneficiary of millions in super-PAC spending and have a financial advantage.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

McConnell, GOP push to unify party, but Bevin makes clear he and his backers are still smarting

Many tea party types around the nation embraced Sen. Mitch McConnell after the primary, "but one key person was still holding out: Matt Bevin," writes Manu Raju of Politico, in a story headlined "GOP's task: Crush tea party, then court it."

And Raju has a quote from Bevin suggesting that an endorsement won't come anytime soon: “You can’t punch people in the face, punch people in the face, punch people in the face, and ask them to have tea and crumpets with you and think it’s all good. Life doesn’t work that way.” In the interview, Bevin didn't go beyond his election-night stand, which was that he wouldn't endorse Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Matt Bevin holds newborn Mary Halston Brandon at the Fountain
 Run BBQ Festival Saturday, May 17. (Photo from Getty Images)
Bevin told Politico that McConnell has a “tremendous challenge before him” to win support of many Bevin voters, and is going to “have a hard time” winning. He said and there is little he can do to move his supporters into the GOP tent because he’s “not leading a bunch of mindless sheep. Some will forget [about attacks by McConnell and his allies]. Some will forget they are the enemy. But some will not. This race is so close, that there is no real margin for error there. There really isn’t.”

McConnell told Politico that he was “not concerned” about uniting the party, and noted the support he has already received from national tea party activists. “We’ve been down this path before,” he told Raju. “We’re going to be able to put the party together.”

Raju notes that traditional Republicans "have beat back tea party forces in a spate of bitter primaries across the country. Now their chances of winning the Senate could hinge on winning the tea party back." But he says they have "a ways to go to ensure conservative activists don’t sit out the fall elections or — even worse — pull the lever for the Democrat as a protest vote. If enough sit out of neck-and-neck races — in states like Kentucky, Georgia and North Carolina — it could be enough to tilt the outcome of a close affair."

Sens. Paul and McConnell (Washington Post photo)
In Kentucky, the public post-election push for party unity begins Friday, as McConnell campaigns with Sen. Rand Paul and has his "first meeting with the local media since his primary victory," Raju writes. "McConnell and Paul also are expected to speak at the Kentucky Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner in early June in Louisville. And in an interview, Paul said he’s planning to stump for McConnell in late July in Northern Kentucky, an area of the state with pockets of rabidly conservative voters who aren’t enamored with the 29-year Senate veteran."

Paul told Politico that “It just takes time” to bring the defeated into the tent: “I think people are mad at first if you work real hard for your candidate and you lose . . . but over time, you have to weigh getting someone who supports President Obama’s policies vs. getting someone who supports Republican ideas.”

Republican leaders "are reaching out to local activists who are skeptical of the GOP establishment and hoping time will heal the wounds with their primary adversaries after a scorched-earth campaign," Raju reports. "They’re also employing the time-honored tactic of shame."

“Anybody who says they will vote for a Democrat as a result of losing the Republican primary is not a Republican, and they are not a conservative,” Assistant Republican Leader John Cornynof Texas, told Politico. “I think, obviously, party unity is important after primaries, but our tradition has not been a party of sore losers.”

Roundup for May 22: Grimes mum on look-back Obamacare vote, calls for vets secretary to quit

Lots of news and commentary today:
  • Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes "twice refused to say whether she would have voted for President Barack Obama's signature health care law" as she kicked off her general-election campaign in Beattyville, Adam Beam reports for The Associated Press.
  • Grimes said in Beattyville that senators should bring jobs to the states they represent. The Beattyville Enterprise said Grimes was replying to the same question it asked Sen. Mitch McConnell April 18. Then, he said it was not his job, but a state responsibility.
  • Grimes and McConnell jumped into the biggest national controversy of the moment, the scandal in Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals. After McConnell gave a Senate floor speech saying President Obama should get as engaged as he was when the health-care website largely failed, Grimes called for Veterans Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign: "I don't see how that breach of trust with our veterans can be repaired if the current leadership stays in place." Monday, McConnell said "The management team needs to be changed."
  • Dana Bash of CNN reports that Senate control "may rest in the hands of women candidates," and "In no place is gender more at play than in Kentucky."
  • Executive Director Shae Hopkins tries to get KET in the mix for debates with a letter asking the candidates to consider "the only statewide broadcaster, accessible to all Kentuckians."
  • The Courier-Journal's Joe Gerth examines "key weaknesses" that the nominees need to address: Grimes in the state's two coalfields and McConnell among Tea Party voters.
  • Grimes gets three Pinocchios (out of four) from The Washington Post's Fact Checker for saying McConnell "quadrupled his net worth on the backs of hardworking Kentuckians." The wealth came from "money that his wife inherited," Glenn Kessler writes.
  • Post columnist E.J. Dionne steps back and takes an interesting overview of Kentucky and the race: "From the mountains to the gentle bluegrass, this normally civilized state was transformed Tuesday night into the staging ground for a merciless war over everything that has gone wrong in American politics during the past 5½ years." Worth a read.
  • A Post video introduces viewers to "the latest women to win their primaries and are vying to join the growing contingent of women in the Senate," including Grimes.
  • McConnell "faces his biggest test yet," writes the Post's "She the People" columnist Nia-Malika Henderson, saying Grimes uses "what might be called blue-collar feminism" with "a Southern swagger."
  • University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato writes, "Despite the results of recent polls, there are several reasons to be skeptical about Democrats’ chances of winning either the Kentucky or the Georgia seat in November. Kentucky hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1992, and Barack Obama lost the state by 16 points in 2008 and 23 points in 2012." Sabato's Crystal Ball still rates the Kentucky outcome as "likely Republican."
  • Scott Wartman of The Kentucky (Cincinnati) Enquirer lists the top five surprises of the primary: no tea-party wave, Matt Bevin carried only two counties (Scott and Pendleton), Tea Party groups got on board Team Mitch; turnout in Northern Kentucky was low; and Grimes' vote nearly equaled Bevin's and McConnell's combined. The last two aren't really surprising.
  • Bevin "stopped short of saying he would vote for McConnell come November," notes Nick Storm of cn|2's "Pure Politics."
  • Dan McLaughlin writes on the Red State blog that Bevin's loss shows how the Tea Party needs more experienced candidates, not "political rookies." An editorial in The Wall Street Journal says Bevin and other Tea Party candidates lost primaries "because they were inferior candidates who differed little from their GOP opponents on policy but seemed less capable of winning in November."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

First general-election ads: McConnell allies target Grimes' Hollywood money, she decries Washington

Alison Lundergan Grimes appeals to populist, anti-Washington feelings, and Mitch McConnell's allies target Hollywood money and President Obama, in the first pair of dueling television commercials in Kentucky's general election for the U.S. Senate.

"This is a frustrating time in our country," Grimes says in her one-minute ad. "The economy is still struggling, people are working harder for less, and here in Kentucky, we feel it more than most," a reference to the state's higher-than-average unemployment, driven partly by coal layoffs.

"And it seems no matter how many elections we have, nothing gets better in Washington, it only gets worse," Grimes continues, then implicitly criticizes both Obama and McConnell: "A lot of that is because of the people at the top in both political parties. If we keep sending them back, nothing will change."

Grimes says "We need a senator who puts partisanship aside . . . and no matter who the president is, I won't answer to them, I'll only answer to you." If she is subtly reminding voters that a new president will be elected in 2016, it's likely that she will later remind them that Obama will have only two years to serve when the next Congress begins, and the senator elected this fall will have six.

Grimes' closing line is that Washington "should put the good of our people ahead of the bad that comes from acting petty and small. We've had too much of that for too long." Sounds like she has some polling that shows some persuadable voters apply those adjectives to McConnell.

The 30-second ad from Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a so-called "super PAC," or politivcal action committee, combines narration, still photos and quotes from news stories to make the case that Grimes is the candidate of President Obama and "liberals coast to coast," including "Hollywood's most liberal political activists." Barbra Streisand and the controversial Woody Allen are among those pictured.

A female narrator says, "Michelle Obama let the truth slip out at a New York City fundraiser, calling Grimes' election critical to President Obama's liberal agenda that's hurting Kentucky." A quote from a news story says "Obama's . . . plan aims straight at coal." The missing words are "climate plan," referring to Obama's proposals to limit greenhouse gases that cause global warming and climate change, measures that threaten the already weak Central Appalachian coal industry.

Grimes says she is pro-coal, but the narrator concludes, "Where's Alison Grimes on the issues? Just look at her friends."

Similar advertising before the primary appears to have affected Grimes's vote in the state's two coalfields. In percentage terms, her 28 worst counties all produce coal, or have recently produced it, and five of the other eight coal counties gave her a smaller share of the vote than her unofficial statewide figure of 76.47 percent.

McConnell, who has avoided or limited debates in the past, proposes 3 by Labor Day; Louisville station offers June 21; KET asks to be considered

Sen. Mitch McConnell, who has greatly limited debate appearances with his Democratic opponents, sent Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes a letter today proposing that they have three "traditional Lincoln-Douglas style debates moderated only by a single timekeeper/moderator . . . in order to present our views fairly and without interpretation by traditional media filters."

The senator said the first debate should be held before July 4, the second before the Aug. 2 Fancy Farm Picnic and the third "around Labor Day . . . in order to present our views before Kentuckians are inundated with advertising." He referred to the last one as "third and final," suggesting that he might not participate in Kentucky Educational Television's candidate forum series.

Grimes told Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald-Leader, "My team will get with his campaign to work out the details of that, but that's something that I have always been open to. I look forward to holding him accountable."

WDRB-TV in Louisville offered to host the first debate on Saturday, June 21, and McConnell immediately accepted, pending discussion of the specifics with the station and Grimes.

McConnell told Grimes in his letter that the debates should be held without a live audience, props or notes to allow "an unvarnished exchange of views for Kentuckians to evaluate." Abraham Lincoln and Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois had large audiences for their seven public debates in 1858, before the advent of radio or television.

McConnell, who is expected to have more money and be supported by more advertising than Grimes, and is known for strong ad campaigns, told her, "Kentucky voters will get their fill of campaign ads and scripted events this year, but three Lincoln-Douglas style debates will provide an excellent format to evaluate our true views on the issues." For a copy of his letter to her, click here.

UPDATE, May 22: Shae Hopkins, KET executive director and CEO, sent Grimes and McConnell a letter saying, "With the general election now underway, as you discuss joint appearances with your opponent, we hope you will consider KET with our long tradition of fair and trusted candidate forums and election coverage. As the only statewide broadcaster, accessible to all Kentuckians, KET would welcome the opportunity to host multiple joint appearances to discuss the important issues facing the Commonwealth and the nation."

NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd looks at how the race shapes up after the primary

Chuck Todd, chief White House correspondent for NBC News, continued his close look at Kentucky politics and the Senate race, "the marquee race in this year's midterms," on MSNBC's "The Daily Rundown" this morning.

Todd asked two former senators who lost partly because their presidents were unpopular, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and John Sununu Jr, of New Hampshire, if McConnell is more or less vulnerable after the primary.

Lincoln equivocated: "He's an incumbent, he knows Kentucky, he knows how to campaign in Kentucky, but she gave a great speech last night, Alison, so I think it's going to be a very competitive race."

Sununu was stronger: "Primaries are almost always good," he said, challenging conventional wisdom. "They can make you tougher, they sharpen you up, they sharpen your message." But he said "what's going to kill Alison Grimes" is what he defined as "Obama's goal of destroying the coal industry."

Lincoln replied, "I think you can distance yourself on issues that are important," including coal, and noted that the Senate has a group of pro-coal Democrats. Sununu acknowledged the example of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, a big supporter of oil and gas, but when it comes to establishing an independent position on such issues, "You can't do it overnight."

In another segment, Todd said Grimes's best model for victory is to model Gov. Steve Beshear's formula in 2007 victory, piling up margins of 50-60,000 in Jefferson County and 20-25,000 in Fayette County and carrying Kenton, Campbell, Daviess and Warren counties, which went for Beshear in 2007 but Sen. Rand Paul in 2010.

Todd said McConnell made clear in his victory speech that his campaign will be against President Obama and the national Democratic Party: "One thing McConnell doesn't do is subtlety." He showed McConnell saying that there is not difference in Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid "and a candidate picked by Harry Reid," and a Grimes reply: "President Obama is not on Kentucky's 2014 election ballot. Nothing is this election will change who is in the White House . . . "

Todd concluded, "Knowing Grimes will make him the face of a broken Washington, McConnell has decided to embrace his power; it's potentially a risky strategy." But he said the question for Grimes is "how does she withstand an assault that's coming" in advertising from McConnell and his allies.

Todd will be the featured dinner speaker at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce's Annual Meeting and Business Summit in Louisville July 21.

Roundup for Wednesday, May 21

Post-primary stories abound. Here are some of interest:
    • Matt Bevin didn't mention Mitch McConnell's name in his concession speech, in which he kept complaining about "lies" told about him, but McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton tells Nick Storm of cn|2's "Pure Politics" that "Mr. Bevin called and gave a very classy call to Senator McConnell; we feel like this party is uniting already," and noted that McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul will campaign together in Louisville on Friday. (Story includes video of candidate speeches)
    • Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post says McConnell's primary win reminded him of five important rules: "Candidates matter" (Bevin's message roamed); the best expenditure is a good opposition researcher (and Bevin seemed unprepared for the attack; "Be prepared" (McConnell "took Bevin extremely seriously"); "Co-opt the opposition" (McConnell got Sen. Rand Paul to endorse him and hired his campaign-manager in-law); and "beating incumbents is very, very hard."
    • In a video segment, Cilizza analyzes Grimes' victory speech and her use of gender and says the key to victory for her is "to win suburban, Republican-leaning women away from Mitch McConnell. How do you do that? By making gender a big issue."
    • Seth McLaughlin of The Washington Times writes, "Bevin failed to gain much traction against the deep-rooted incumbent, thanks to a combination of rookie missteps and a barrage of spending from the McConnell camp and its allies."
    • WDRB-TV commentator John David Dyche opines, "Bevin's concession speech was his campaign's best moment. . . . Grimes got by a trio of token foes who spent almost nothing, but her numbers in several traditionally Democratic coal counties of Eastern Kentucky portend bad things" for her.
    • Former state Treasurer Jonathan Miller, a Democrat who also ran for Congress and governor, predicts on The Daily Beast that Grimes will beat McConnell because she "has run a steadfastly solid campaign" and become "a dynamic and disciplined candidate," and "McConnell is to many swing Kentucky voters the very symbol of everything that’s wrong with politics."
    • "The Morning Line" from PBS "NewsHour" says yesterday's results around the country boosted Republican hopes of taking over the Senate, which would make McConnell majority leader (presuming he wins the caucus vote after the Nov. 4 election, which seems assured). The PBS Politics page also shows McConnell's campaign theme, unveiled in Paul's introduction of his seatmate last night:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Post-election roundup for primary day, May 20

Some of the national stories on the 2014 Senate primary results:
  • Politico.com gives readers results of the primary with Alison Lundergan Grimes with just under 77 percent of Democratic votes and Sen. Mitch McConnell with just over 60 percent of Republican votes. McConnell's defeat of Matt Bevin "is a boost to the GOP establishment on a night that is expected to favor that wing of the party and incumbents generally, James Hohmann writes.
  • Jonathan Martin, chief political writer for The New York Timessays McConnell's win "underscored one of the main lessons emerging from the young primary season: Even in an era of deep dissatisfaction with Washington, political fundamentals like candidate strength, fund-raising and incumbency remain paramount."
  • Fox News Politics says McConnell "now faces a November race that is emerging as the toughest in his five-term career."
  • For coverage of the primary by C-SPAN's Steve Scully, including an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader's Sam Youngman, click here.
  • Adam Beam and Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press write, "It was another politician who stole the spotlight Tuesday night: Democratic President Barack Obama. In their victory speeches, McConnell and Grimes both invoked the name of the two-term president who has the disapproval of more than 60 percent of Kentucky voters." Grimes said, “Mitch McConnell would have you believe that President Obama is on Kentucky’s 2014 election ballot. Senator McConnell, this race is between you and me.”
  • Philip Rucker and Robert Costa of The Washington Post report that McConnell was "largely unscathed, and conservative groups quickly called for party unity" after opposing him. They also offer "a preview of the vitriol to come," from the candidates' victory speeches:
    McConnell called Grimes “a partisan’s partisan who’s been practicing party politics since she learned to talk” and said “Barack Obama’s candidates preach independence but they practice loyalty above all else. And tonight, I’m confident of this: Kentuckians will not be deceived. Alison Lundergan Grimes is Barack Obama’s candidate.”
    "Grimes came back fighting in her victory speech, delivering a litany of attacks on the Republican leader she labeled 'Senator Gridlock.' She said she is not an empty dress [a term applied to her by a GOP strategist] and 'not a rubber stamp,' but rather a 'strong Kentucky woman' and an 'independent thinker'."
  • Dana Bash, Paul Steinhauser and Rachel Streitfeld of CNN note, "In his concession speech, Bevin didn't back McConnell, but he said he has no intention 'of supporting the Democratic platform over the Republican platform'."
  • Washington Times reporter Seth McLaughlin writes, "Senate Minority Leader McConnell promised to 'crush' the tea party in this primary election, and he did his part by winning a landslide primary victory over Bevin."
  • Francine Kiefer of the Christian Science Monitor asked why a state with more registered Democrats than Republicans and a lot more Democratic governors lately has elected a GOP senator five times. UK's Al Cross answered that "Democrats of heritage" remain in the party "even though their core values are conservative" partly to vote in local elections.

Senate race pre-returns roundup for May 20

Tonight the general election race officially begins, and Sen. Mitch McConnell will be fast out of the starting gate. Two "independent expenditure" groups that support McConnell have $5.2 million in television time through Aug. 27, Sam Youngman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Most of it, $4.7 million, is from the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, which doesn't have to reveal its donors because it is registered as a group that is not supposed to "run election ads as its primary function, Youngman writes.

Matt Bevin isn't throwing in the towel. He cites a poll for a conservative magazine, Human Events, that gives him 34 percent of the Republican primary vote and McConnell 48 percent, with 18 percent undecided.

McConnell no longer "defines Republicanism" in Kentucky, writes Shane Goldmacher of the National Journal after several days in the state. The first quote is from Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who is closer to Sen. Rand Paul: “There’s a change of the guard taking place now in Kentucky.” Goldmacher notes Paul's starring role in McConnell's final TV spot before the primary. "McConnell will have to lean on Paul to reunite the party and bring those disaffected Republicans back into the fold. It is the same role McConnell played four years ago, when he organized a unity rally after Paul’s primary win left the party divided. It is, in other words, exactly the kind of job that falls to a party’s leader."

Monday, May 19, 2014

Senate race roundup for Monday, May 19

Stories making headlines on the eve of the primary:
  • Bruce Schreiner and Adam Beam of The Associated Press write about Mitch McConnell's strategy to focus on President Obama and his likely general-election foe, Alison Lundergan Grimes, rather than his Republican primary challenger Matt Bevin.
  • In a look at races on Louisville ballots, Phillip Bailey of WFPL-FM recalls "there was talk of a possible upset" when Louisville businessman Bevin entered the race, but "the Mitch McConnell wrecking machine" accentuated his flaws.
  • Lisa Autry of WKYU-FM in Bowling Green reports that Grimes and McConnell "are already campaigning with an eye toward November. One is urging voters to change the Senate. The other is urging voters to change the senator."


Cross discusses the race and the nature of Kentucky politics on 'The Daily Rundown' with Chuck Todd

University of Kentucky journalism professor and Courier-Journal political columnist Al Cross discussed “Kentucky’s ‘fragmented identity’ and midterms” on "The Daily Rundown" with Chuck Todd this morning on MSNBC.

Many people assume that Kentucky is a Southern state but is next to and influenced by the Midwest. “Kentucky seems as if it has succeeded from the North,” Todd said, “but not quite.”

Cross said, “Kentucky is fundamentally a Southern state because it was a slave state, but it was the slave state that was most easy for African Americans to escape from after the war, so our black population declined to 7 percent and its remained there for a long time, so civil rights is not the issue here that it was in the rest of the South, blacks were never perceived as a political threat by whites.”

Todd asked why local elections in Kentucky are still dominated by Democrats.

Cross said Kentucky has many “Democrats of heritage,” raised in Democratic families, who have “gone to vote Republican in most elections but remain Democratic” in registration. “Another factor is we have so many counties in this state and so many of them are so small that local elections tend to be very personal and once it gets to that level its more difficult for people to abandon a party registration.”

Todd said “McConnell looks poised to win this primary” and asked, “Is this going to be a microcosm of anything in the national environment, or do you think this is simply going to be a referendum of McConnell in the fall?”

Cross said he thinks it will be largely a referendum on the senator. “It is a challenge for him because his approval ratings are so low, though they’ve ticked up a little bit in recent weeks now that he’s had some positive advertising on to remind people what he’s done.”

Todd asked, “Is Alison Lundergan Grimes a candidate that can win state wide on her own or is she going to need a big anti-McConnell vote, even Republican crossover, to pull this off?”

Cross said, “If McConnell didn’t have the kind of approval ratings he did, so low, then you wouldn’t give her much of a chance. She’s an appealing candidate, she’s managed to unify the various segments of the Democratic party, and there’s a great dislike among Democrats for McConnell and they finally think they have a candidate who can beat him." 

While polls have showed both candidates with small leads within the margins of error, Cross said Grimes faces a challenge in turning out Democrats, because in Senate races in Kentucky, "when the president's not on the ballot, the turnout rate tends to be 15 points below that in presidential years.”

Cross said Democrats had higher turnout than Republicans in Senate races until the advent of President Obama, who has "been bad for the Democratic brand" in Kentucky and depressed Democratic turnout. Obama is McConnell's prime target in the general election.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Senate race update for Sunday, May 18

It's the Sunday before the election on Tuesday, so it's a day for magisterial overviews of the state of play:

  • Adam Beam, new Frankfort correspondent for The Associated Press, writes an overview and a slice of life from the campaign trail, datelined Franklin, where Mitch McConnell and Alison Grimes campaigned a few blocks apart and "had the same message: change," Beam writes. "For Grimes, it is changing Kentucky's senator, who she criticized for voting against raising the minimum wage and blocking measures that would ensure women are paid the same salaries as men for equal work. For McConnell, it is changing the Senate to Republican control and putting him in charge of stopping a president's agenda that he says has devastated Kentucky's coal industry and upended the country's health care system."
  • Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service filed his story from Fountain Run, where McConnell rode in the Barbecue Festival parade and primary foe Matt Bevin watched.
  • Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal casts the primaries as prelude to "a hard-fought general election in the most highly anticipated race in the nation."
  • The Lexington Herald-Leader ran an extensive Voters' Guide on the Senate contest and other races; Sunday night it published a Sam Youngman story about McConnell's day in Southern Kentucky, with this memorable quote from the senator: "My opponent is able to raise a lot of money because she's running against me. I'm able to raise a lot of money because I am me. So in a sense, you get a picture here, I'm raising money for both sides."

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Last poll before primary shows slight uptick for Bevin, still 20 points behind; McConnell-Grimes race still tight

Sen. Mitch McConnell leads fellow Republican Matt Bevin by 20 percentage points and remains in a neck-and-neck race with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, according to the latest Bluegrass Poll for The Courier-Journal, the Lexington Herald-Leader, Louisville's WHAS-TV and Lexington's WKYT-TV.

Among the 605 Republicans who said they were likely to vote Tuesday, McConnell had 55 percent and Bevin 35 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points for each result. Five percent each said they were undecided or favored one of the three candidates who have been running nominal campaigns.

McConnell's 20-point lead was significantly less than the 32-point lead (37-25) he had in an NBC News/Marist College poll taken April 30 through May 6. A Bluegrass Poll in February showed the spread at 55-29, but that was among registered Republicans, not self-defined likely voters.

McConnell's lead is beyond the error margin in each of the poll's four geographic regions. It is smallest in the Louisville region (51-41) and largest in the east (61-27). He benefits from a gender gap, with women favoring him 62-25 and men favoring him by 48-44, within the error margin. There was a similar split among age groups, with McConnell winning 63-31 among those over 50 but only 45-41 among younger voters, who are less likely to vote.

The 747 registered voters in the poll were asked which of these statements they agreed with more: "Mitch McConnell has been in office too long and it's time for him to go? Or, Mitch McConnell's expertise and seniority are important for Kentucky to have in Washington, D.C." The first statement was adopted by 38 percent, the second by 55 percent. Among voters who defined themselves as conservatives, seniority and expertise prevailed 58-34; among moderates, that statement lost, 47-49, but moderates make up less than a fourth of the Republican sample.

Asked the converse, "Matt Bevin is too inexperienced and would harm Kentucky's ability to get things from Washington? Or, Matt Bevin is the fresh face that is needed to shake things up in Washington," the results were similar.

In a test of Bevin's primary campaign themes, about half of registered Republicans, 51 percent, said McConnell has done too little to "stop spending in Washington, and 54 percent said he has done too little to "stop the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare."

Other results

In a test of the expected matchup, among 1,475 likely general-election voters, Grimes led McConnell 43 percent to 42 percent, with an error margin of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points. Independent Ed Marksberry and Libertarian David Patterson each got 4 percent, and 7 percent said they were undecided. In a test with Bevin, Grimes won 41-38.

Against McConnell, Grimes won 15 percent of the conservative vote, 60 percent of the moderate vote and 85 percent of the liberal vote. Generally, the more income and education respondents had, the more likely they were to vote for Grimes.

Grimes led 48-38 in the Louisville region, and McConnell led 48-33 in the east. The other two regions, west and north central, were about even. Error margins are much greater for such smaller samples; in the Louisville region it is plus or minus 4.8 percentage points; in the east, it is 6.4 points.

Among the 1,782 registered voters polled, only 34 percent said they approved of the job McConnell is doing as senator, and 56 percent disapproved. Among Republicans, 53 percent approved and 38 percent disapproved. Asked a more general question, their opinion of McConnell, 29 percent were favorable and 49 percent were unfavorable. Their opinion of Grimes was 35 percent favorable and 27 percent unfavorable.

Bevin's ratings illustrated how he has failed to make a strong impression with registered voters and the damage McConnell's attack advertising has done to him. Asked their opinion of him, 22 percent said it was favorable, 25 percent said it was unfavorable, 33 percent said it was neutral and 13 percent said they had no opinion.

UPDATE: The C-J's Joe Gerth notes, "Another interesting tidbit is that McConnell voters would be more likely to vote for Bevin in November — if Bevin were to win — than Bevin voters are inclined to vote for McConnell. The poll found that only 39 percent of Bevin voters plan to vote for McConnell and 25 percent said they are certain to back Grimes. Conversely, 53 percent of McConnell voters said they would vote for Bevin and only 9 percent say they would back Grimes."

For the full results, click here.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Senate race roundup for Friday, May 16: Issues, answers, forecasts, and a pending poll

Looking at this morning's news and looking ahead to the weekend:
  • The Courier-Journal publishes nearly a full page of answers to questions on issues by candidates of both parties, headlining that McConnell and Bevin agree on a lot. "About the only thing they disagree on is whether the United States should scale back its role overseas," Joe Gerth writes.
  • Lexington-Herald Leader reporter Sam Youngman says Matt Bevin fights hard against McConnell but hasn't persuaded voters that McConnell enables Obama's agenda. "The cards were stacked against Bevin from the beginning," says University of Kentucky political science professor Steven Voss.
  • The Christian Science Monitor headlines a story by Francine Kifer, "Why Mitch McConnell ... is so vulnerable at home." Answers: Low regard for Congress, McConnell's support for Rand Paul's opponent Trey Grayson in 2010, and "the odd political mix that is Kentucky."
  • The Fix, a column in The Washington Post, lowers its probability that Republicans will take control of the Senate to 77 percent, from 82 percent, mainly on the strength of Democratic fund-raising. It still puts Kentucky among the states where the Republican has a 75 percent chance or better of winning.
  • The savvy Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report says it's foolish to forecast the Senate races because of four factors that are in flux: President Obama's popularity, whether Obamacare remains a big issue, voter turnout and the new technology being used to drive it, and unforced errors by candidates.
  • The Bluegrass Poll for major news organizations in Kentucky is expected to announce its latest survey in the Senate race tonight.
  • Youngman reports that Grimes has scheduled a June 5 fundraiser in Washington "with 'special guest' Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid."
  • C-J Washington correspondent James R. Carroll reports McConnell will still remain minority leader even if Republicans don't take control of the Senate, according to a survey by the National Journal.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Senate race roundup for Thursday, May 15

Stories of which to take note today in the Senate race include:
  • Lexington-Herald Leader reporter Sam Youngman says Alison Lundergan Grimes remains a blank slate as many in polls don't know how to rate her. Grimes has kept her head down strategically, planning when to discuss issues and using the primary election to introduce herself and raise money; University of Kentucky political science professor Steven Voss says she has missed an opportunity to define herself before Mitch McConnell can do so. 
  • Herald-Leader reporter Janet Patton notes McConnell's call for the Drug Enforcement Administration to release 250 pounds of imported hemp seeds immediately so projects can get under way, under a Farm Bill provision McConnell pushed through. He said, "It is an outrage that DEA is using finite taxpayers' dollars to impound legal industrial-hemp seeds."
  • Mother Jones reporter David Corn interviews McConnell's first boss, former senator Marlow Cook.  Cook, who lives in Florida, is a Republican who first hired McConnell upon graduation to work on his successful 1968 campaign. Cook says he is amazed by McConnell's move from the center to the right, and disapproves of him trying to get rid of Obamacare: "If he had any knowledge of the lack of health and medical facilities in the hills of Kentucky, he'd know it's a problem we need to solve."
  • Nationally, McConnell has the lowest net rating, minus 17 percent, of any congressional leader tested in the latest Gallup Poll, just ahead of (or behind) House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, at minus 16. The Hill reports, "23 percent of people have a favorable view of the Senate Republican leader, compared to 40 percent who have an unfavorable view. Another 37 percent have no opinion of him." As for Pelosi, "While her favorable rating (33 percent) is 10 points higher than McConnell's, her unfavorable rating is also 9 points higher (49 percent). Only 18 percent have no opinion of her." House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) each have a net rating of minus 14.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Senate race roundup for Wednesday, May 14

Items that caught our Senate-race eye today:
  • The Courier-Journal print edition is led with a billboard-type story referring to a USA Today piece in that paper's C-J section about "dark money," from groups that don't have to disclose their contributors, playing a much larger role than ever in elections. It cites the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's TV ads for Mitch McConnell.
  • We have long known Elaine Chao as an appealing, energetic and tough campaigner, and Jason Horowitz of The New York Times has a well-done profile of her today.
  • The C-J has a letter from one Hunter Bates of Prospect saying Matt Bevin "has lost the respect of many people, like myself, who thought he was an honest man." Bates is not identified as a lobbyist or former top aide to McConnell, who ran for lieutenant governor with Ernie Fletcher in 2003 until his Kentucky residency was questioned.
  • Catching up: The Cincinnati Enquirer picks up Sunday's C-J story by Washington correspondent Jim Carroll saying "McConnell steadily has drifted more to the political right every session since he first came to the Senate in 1984, according to a statistical analysis of his votes as part of ongoing research project by political scientists at several universities."

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

HBO comedian sums up the ads so far in our Senate race: 'She hates coal and he is an old man'


In Sunday's edition of his HBO series, “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver focused on political advertising, specifically in the Senate race in Kentucky. It was a hilarious take on political ads that could only be shown on a pay network.

Oliver did a good job of putting political ads in a different perspective than what we normally see and said aloud the things many of us probably have been thinking: how childish and immature political ads can get, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court relaxed limits on political money.

Oliver showed clips from the candidates' television and online ads to argue that the candidates' primary tactic is to demonize and belittle the other, perhaps subliminally.

"For Mitch McConnell, it's about how much he loves coal and how much his opponent hates it," Oliver said. And the message of Alison Lundergan Grimes is, "She is not Mitch McConnell in any way, shape or form. . . . She hates coal and he is an old man."

He then showed his own mock political ad for each one, "very much in the spirit of the ads they're already running," he said, to show how the campaigns' ads would look if their strategy and tactics were taken to the extreme.

Oliver’s mock ad for McConnell showed Grimes slaughtering coal miners with a chainsaw, portraying his theme that she hates coal because of her support for President Obama.

His mock ad for Grimes portrayed McConnell, using video that could be classified as pornographic, as a flaccid old man who can no longer help the state.

In the coming race between it is clear that age may be a huge factor: either McConnell is too old or Grimes is too young and inexperienced. An early McConnell ad said Grimes was "not ready for prime time."

Oliver proves just how ridiculous McConnell and Grimes are being, and shows their lack of focus on important issues in a race that may turn out to be the nation's most expensive ever for the Senate. The money being spent is outrageous, especially when the candidates fail to discuss the important issues that Kentucky actually faces. Oliver listed the state's high rank in poverty, obesity, unemployment, illiteracy and cancer deaths and said, "This race is all but ignoring Kentucky's substantial problems."

It seems as if the candidates are ignoring what really matters in Kentucky and focusing on what will make their opponent look bad. As Oliver put it, "The people of Kentucky deserve everyone's sympathy."

Senate Race Roundup for Tuesday, May 13

Headlines worth noting in the U.S. Senate race today:
  • As Alison Grimes questions Mitch McConnell's performance on bringing jobs to Kentucky, her own record is in play because she has run on the issue, notes Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
  • McConnell will be discussing Kentucky's heroin problem at a congressional caucus meeting tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. in 192 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
  • The Herald-Leader provides a recently updated searchable database to look up donors to Senate candidates McConnell, Alison Grimes and Matt Bevin.
  • Chuck Todd and Mark Murray of NBC News write on First Read, "Kentucky shines the spotlight on voters’ frustrations with Congress, given Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election bid. In some ways, he may be the national poster child for the 'anger at dysfunctional Washington' narrative."
  • Rolling Stone magazine's Mark Binelli has a long, richly descriptive story on the Senate race, as noted yesterday. It's mainly about the primary and McConnell's relationship with his seatmate, but is definitely worth reading. "Not McConnell, not Grimes, not Rand Paul is a hero here, but it’s a very rich piece that shows how our politics runs long and deep," writes Kakie Urch of The Recovering Politician's Kentucky Political Brief.

Monday, May 12, 2014

NBC/Marist poll shows McConnell coasting in primary, in statistical dead heat in fall, but GOP sample small

By Al Cross

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell is coasting to victory in next week's Republican primary over Matt Bevin, but he remains locked in a tight race with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, says a poll taken for NBC News.

McConnell led challenger Matt Bevin 57 percent to 25 percent in the poll taken by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., April 30 through May 6. It showed McConnell leading Grimes 46 percent to 45 percent, with 1 percent saying they would vote for someone else and 8 percent saying they are undecided.

Pollsters said they surveyed 2,353 registered voters, for a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points in the general-election poll, including 760 registered Republicans, for an error margin of 3.6 points in the primary. A turnout probability model selected the 408 Republicans most likely to vote, and those were used for the reported result, 57-25. Its error margin is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

The percentage of Republicans among registered voters in the poll, 32 percent, is an under-sampling of Republican strength in Kentucky, which has grown to 38.5 percent of voter registration. Also, 40 percent in the poll said they identified as Democrats, while only 30 percent identified as Republicans. Thus, the poll could understate McConnell's support in the general election. Why were there fewer Republicans? Perhaps GOP voters, tired of political phone calls from the McConnell and Bevin campaigns, were less likely to agree to questioning.

It should be noted that the poll results showed that 34 percent of the registered voters in the sample were Republicans, indicating that the results were weighted to reflect demographics of the electorate. The results say the sample was 52 percent Democratic and 14 percent independent; only 7.6 percent of Kentucky voters are registered independent, and 54 percent are registered Democratic.

The poll shows that Grimes, who was elected secretary of state in 2011 and started Senate television advertising after the poll was completed, had yet to fully introduce herself to Kentucky voters. One in 10 had never heard of her, and 27 percent said they couldn't rate her; 39 percent said they had a favorable opinion of her and 24 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion.

But McConnell, in his 30th year in the Senate, fared more poorly: 46 percent of registered voters said they had an unfavorable opinion of him, while 42 percent said they had a positive opinion, and 11 percent said they weren't sure. (Percentages may not add to 100 because of rounding.)

Still, in the Republican primary, McConnell led Bevin 57 to 25, with 3 percent choosing Chris Payne and 1 percent each going for Shawna Sterling and Brad Copas.

"What McConnell has done in his primary has worked," said Chuck Todd of NBC. "He’s put the spotlight on Bevin a bit -- doing his best to make the primary a choice rather than a pure referendum on him. The question for McConnell, however, is if he can make the full transition to the general election in what looks like to be a very competitive race. . . . The entire general-election game will hinge on whether McConnell can keep the GOP voters in his column."

Just over 50 percent of McConnell and Bevin supporters said they were strongly committed to their candidate. McConnell's job will be to get back in his tent the 26 percent of Republican primary voters who said they had an unfavorable opinion of him.

The senator hopes to do that by associating the still somewhat unknown Grimes with President Obama, who remains unpopular in Kentucky. The poll found that 56 percent of registered voters disapprove of Obama's job performance while only 32 percent approved and 12 percent said they were not sure.

For the Marist news release and poll results, click here. Here are the top lines of the results:

Senate race roundup for Monday, May 12

Stories of interest in the U.S. Senate race today:
  • Rolling Stone headlines a story by Mark Binelli "Deep in the heart of coal country, a vicious Senate battle rages, and the heart of the Republican Party is at stake."
  • If Mitch McConnell hopes to keep using Obamacare as an issue, it may not be as strong as he figured, because the Kentucky version seems popular, says a new poll from NBC News.
  • Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal takes a look at the recent history of Kentucky cockfighting, which somehow became a big issue in the Republican primary.
  • The McConnell-allied group Kentuckians for Strong Leadership responds to Alison Grimes' first TV ad with one tying her to President Obama, McConnell's main target.
  • The Lexington Herald-Leader endorsed McConnell and Grimes Sunday, the former at length, saying Matt Bevin has "showed no inclination toward pragmatism, compromise or a real exchange of ideas, all critical to legislative success and leadership."

    Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/05/11/3237485/choose-mcconnell-in-gop-primary.html?sp=/99/349/#storylink=cpy
  • Ronnie Ellis of Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. offers wisdom as Grimes and McConnell hit the trail, targeting each other before the primary: "Those who come out to see the candidates in person sometimes ask better questions than reporters, and the candidate’s answers can be more illuminating. . . . Reporters often don’t know as much they think and can learn a lot from voters who are serious about evaluating the candidates."
  • Bevin told a Madisonville crowd, "I'm a stronger canddiate than Mitch McConnell in the general election" because Grimes "runs on four things. She runs on some variation of: she’s young, she’s new, is a woman, and she’s not Mitch McConnell. . . . While they’re not substantive, they’re good enough to beat Mitch McConnell. . . . The reality is I negate her only competitive advantages. She’s then forced to run against me by talking about issues, by talking about vision, by talking about life experience. And she really has none of the above on any of those fronts." First reported by Scott Keyes of ThinkProgress, picked up by Huffington Post.