Thursday, July 31, 2014

Rolling roundup: As attention turns west, McConnell has a 60-second TV ad about an issue in the region

As the candidates head toward Fancy Farm, there's a new ad about West Kentucky:
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell started a new one-minute TV ad today, touting his "Freedom to Fish Act" that kept the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from banning fishing for safety reasons on the Tennessee River just below Kentucky Dam and the Cumberland River just below Barkley Dam. Most folks heading to the political speaking at the Fancy Farm Picnic will cross these waters on Interstate 24.
  • "The Morning Line" from PBS NewsHour Politics moves the race down in its list of the 10 races most likely to decide control of the Senate, to No. 8 from No. 6: "This one drops a couple spots because of movement in other races and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell looking stronger," PBS Political Director Domenico Montanaro and staff write, noting this month's Bluegrass Poll.
  • University of Kentucky officials will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Friday to announce a statewide media partnership as part of UK student organizations' proposal to host a senatorial debate on campus. UPDATE, Aug. 1: The originating station would be Lexington's WKYT-TV; other TV stations in the hookup would be WLKY, Louisville; WLWT, Cincinnati; WYMT, Hazard; WSAZ, Charleston-Huntington, W. Va., WBKO, Bowling Green; WPSD, Paducah; and WFIE in Evansville, Ind.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Roundup: Grimes ad stays on theme and in east but raises women's issues; she gets flak for Israel answer

Grimes makes news with new TV commercial and more difficulty with questions . . .
  • Alison Lundergan Grimes released a new television commercial that continues her theme of having Eastern Kentucky residents pose questions to Sen. Mitch McConnell. This time, the votes she seeks are those of women, among whom she slipped in the latest Bluegrass Poll. Ilene Woods of Lynch asks, "Why did you vote two times against the Violence Against Women Act, and against enforcing equal pay for women?" McConnell voted against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 and 2012. A 45-second web ad expands on the attack and says McConnell voted against the Violence Against Women Act in 1994.
  • "Republicans took to the Internet Wednesday morning to assail ... Grimes after she said Tuesday that Israel's missile defense system had helped prevent terrorist attacks from Hamas' tunnel network," Sam Youngman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The day before, Youngman quoted Grimes as saying, "The Iron Dome has been a big reason why Israel has been able to withstand the terrorists that have tried to tunnel their way in."
  • McConnell's campaign released a video that "invites supporters to join Sen. McConnell at this year’s Fancy Farm Picnic on Saturday." The video highlights parts of McConnell's speech and excitement from last year's picnic.
  • "More than half of Kentucky voters say creating jobs and improving the economy is the top issue facing the United States, and two-thirds of voters say Kentucky's U.S. Senate candidates have an obligation to debate each other," Youngman reports in then final installment of results from the Bluegrass Poll.
  • WFPL reporter Phillip M. Bailey offers five takeaways from the poll, including "Grimes leads McConnell among women by just one point."
  • Reid Wilson of The Washington Post Reid Wilson reports, "The pro-Mitch McConnell Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is spending $305,000 on ads this week. Senate Majority PAC is spending $83,000 for Grimes."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

July 29 roundup: Campaigns spin poll; Grimes rally starts bus tour headed west; a W.Va. ad looks familiar

Starting the sojourn through Western Kentucky to Saturday's Fancy Farm Picnic:
  • "Sen. Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes have released statements in response to Monday's release of a WHAS11/Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll," in which McConnell's led by 2 percentage points, reports Joe Arnold of Louisvile's WHAS-TV. McConnell's campaign said President Obama needs Grimes and Kentucky needs McConnell, calling a vote for Grimes "another Obama vote in the Senate." Grimes's campaign, which compared McConnell to Darth Vader, said it would "use our multi-million dollar war chest to fire with both barrels through Fancy Farm and into Election Day." 
  • Grimes kicked off her 'Road to Fancy Farm' bus tour this evening with a Lexington rally that offered "an extensive critique of McConnell," Sam Youngman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "You all know Mitch McConnell said his number one priority was to make sure that our president didn't see another term," Grimes said. "Well, it is my number one priority to make sure Mitch McConnell doesn't see a sixth term." 
  • West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, the Democratic nominee in the election to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, launched a TV ad that was somewhat reminiscent of those by Grimes and McConnell, saying "I’ve fought to protect our coal jobs right alongside Joe Manchin, and I’ll stand up to leaders of both parties who threaten our way of life. ... I’ll make sure President Obama gets the message." The ad begins with Tennant asking "Where do they think they get their electricity?" and ends with her throwing a huge circuit breaker that plunges the White House into darkness.

Monday, July 28, 2014

McConnell 47%, Grimes 45% in latest Bluegrass Poll

Sen. Mitch McConnell leads Alison Lundergan Grimes by two percentage points in the latest Bluegrass Poll conducted for major Kentucky newspapers and television stations.

McConnell had 47 percent and Grimes 45 percent in the digital telephone poll taken July 18-23 by Survey USA for The Courier-Journal, the Lexington Herald-Leader, Louisville's WHAS-TV and Lexington's WKYT-TV. The poll surveyed 800 self-defined likely voters and has an error margin of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points, which applies to each candidate's percentage.

One in four polled say they might change their mind before voting, and 8 percent said they were undecided. The undecided percentage rose to 13 when the questionnaire included David Patterson, a gun-toting Harrodsburg police officer who is collecting petition signatures to appear on the ballot as the candidate of the Libertarian Party. He has until Aug. 12 to file 5,000 qualified signatures. With three candidates in the mix, the results were McConnell 41, Grimes 39 and Patterson 7.

"While obviously a very tight race, it's a shift in McConnell's direction," WKYT's Bill Bryant said. WHAS's Joe Arnold noted, "It's McConnell's first lead this year" in the survey. "In the February poll, Grimes was up by four percentage points; in May, Grimes led by one. . . . McConnell appears to be drawing his strength from two key demographic groups, senior citizens and Eastern Kentuckians." (Lexington Herald-Leader chart)

McConnell has been emphasizing his support for the coal industry, in opposition to carbon-dioxide limits proposed by President Obama, who was already unpopular in Eastern Kentucky. In major eastern coal counties in the May 18 Democratic primary, token candidates got double-digit percentages, indicating unhappiness with the Democrats. The poll found McConnell leading in Eastern Kentucky, 54 percent to 39 percent.

"Among likely Kentucky voters 65 and older, McConnell holds a 14 point advantage over Grimes, 54 percent to 40 percent," Arnold reports. "That's the largest lead for either candidate within an age group. McConnell also leads (49 percent to 44 percent) among the youngest voters, 18 to 34."

Sam Youngman of the Herald-Leader writes, "Many Republicans . . . appear to be returning to McConnell's fold after a contentious GOP primary in which he defeated challenger Matt Bevin. In the February Bluegrass Poll, only 73 percent of Republicans said they would vote for McConnell. In May, with [Ed] Marksberry and Patterson included, that number dropped to 69 percent. But with the primary behind them, 82 percent of Republicans now support McConnell."

Read more here:

Another good sign for McConnell was that his favorability rose significantly from the previous poll, in mid-May, when 29 percent viewed him favorably and 49 percent were unfavorable. His latest numbers are 36 percent favorable and 43 percent unfavorable. Grimes, who has been the target of many television commercials from McConnell allies, lost her clearly favorable status. She was rated 36 percent favorable and 33 percent unfavorable; her May rating was 35-27.

One of McConnell's central arguments is that the way to change Washington is to change the Senate, by putting it in Republican hands and making him majority leader. Those in the poll seem sympathetic to that case; 48 percent said Republicans would do a better job running the Senate, while 40 percent said Democrats would. For the detailed results of the poll, click here.

June 28 roundup: Polls, predictions and analyses

Rounding up a few tidbits as we wait for the latest Bluegrass Poll, due at 6 p.m.:
  • Alison Lundergan Grimes's campaign says former President Bill Clinton will join her Aug. 6 at events in Lexington (11 a.m.) and Hazard (3 p.m.). Clinton previously appeared at a Louisville fund-raiser for Grimes. 
  • A random survey was conducted of 1,054 registered voters in the Kentucky Senate race by the conservative magazine Human Events and Gravis Marketing. "The poll results revealed the race to be even at 45 percent," Gravis reports. Gravis head Doug Kaplan said Sen. Mitch “McConnell and Grimes have been neck and neck for months, but will the people of Kentucky vote McConnell out when they approve of President Obama by only 32 percent?”
  • Anthony Salvanto, elections director for CBS News, said on "Face the Nation" Sunday that 80 percent of people who disapprove of a president's job performance vote against his party. An online poll by CBS and The New York Times' Upshot blog, following 100,000 people in states with competitive Senate races, has McConnell with 50 percent and Grimes with 46 percent in Kentucky. "I think Kentucky is a pretty tough task for the Democrats," Upshot Editor David Leonhardt said on the show, adding that it would be "exceedingly unusual" for a state like Kentucky to flip to the president's party in such an election. Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report said "The environment is very good for Republicans," with a low job rating for Obama and unhappiness with the direction of the country, but "What's standing in the way in many cases is the Republicans themselves," because they have lower approval ratings than in 2010.
  • However, when it comes to Kentucky, "There’s times when I feel like it’s immune from the national environment,” Chuck Todd, chief White House correspondent for NBC News, said at the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce annual meeting last Monday. “I think that Grimes has the harder road to go because of coal. If you look at the national environment, I’d rather be Grimes than McConnell. I think that the anti-Washington vibe is that real.” McConnell is symbolic of Washington and has a low job rating, Todd noted. For a report from Rachel Aretakis of Louisville Business First, click here.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Grimes keeps hammering McConnell on jobs remark, but ads don't tell the whole story, fact-checkers say

By Megan Ingros and Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The defining moment of Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race, as Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes would have it, was Sen. Mitch McConnell’s April 18 comment to a weekly newspaper in Lee County that bringing jobs there “is not my job.”

The remark has fueled attack ads from Grimes and responses from McConnell, the latest round this month. Several fact checkers have said it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Grimes began the exchanges in early June, with a 60-second radio ad that mainly attacked President Obama’s anti-coal regulations but also mentioned McConnell’s comment to The Beattyville Enterprise.

Politifact, the fact-checking service of the Tampa Bay Times, found the charge “half true,” saying that it had no reason to doubt the newspaper, but noting that “McConnell also told the paper that he has a responsibility to protect jobs, and that some of his work in Congress has led to job creation in Kentucky. In addition, McConnell’s legislative record shows a concern for local employment.”

In early July, national Democrats' Senate Majority PAC released a television attack ad on McConnell in which Kentucky residents say jobs should be a top priority for a senator, and express dismay at McConnell’s remark.

Grimes attacked again on July 22 with a TV ad featuring unemployed coal miner David Stanley, who says: “Mr. McConnell, in the last two years, we’ve lost almost half of our coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky. Why’d you say it’s not your job to bring jobs to Kentucky?” As Grimes and Stanley wait for an answer that never comes, an image of the Beattyville newspaper story appears on the screen. Grimes says job growth will be her top priority if elected.

Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett defended McConnell, telling the Lexington Herald-Leader that it was “unfair and untrue” to blame him for the loss of those jobs.

Nevertheless, McConnell released an ad one day later, saying he “saved” a Louisville company with a bill he got passed in 2012 “That law imposes duties on imported foreign products that receive subsidies from communist governments,” reports Louisville’s WDRB-TV.  Joe Arnold of Louisville's WHAS-TV reported, “Our check of the legislative record confirms the ad is accurate.”

Arnold said of Grimes’s ad, “The question itself is questionable,” because she extends the remark to apply to jobs in Kentucky, not Lee County, and for the same reasons Politifact judged the radio ad to be half-true.

Grimes responded with a statement claiming that “Under McConnell, Kentucky has lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs, while he has spent years supporting tax breaks that encourage companies to ship good Kentucky overseas.” The campaign also said McConnell had not stood up to China’s currency manipulations, and it issued a web ad suggesting that McConnell cared more about creating jobs in China than in the U.S.

Beattyville Enterprise Editor Edmund Shelby stood by his article in a statement on June 24: “There is no way that was taken out of context and his campaign’s claim that it was lost in translation is ridiculous because we were both speaking in English. He committed the cardinal sin of any career politician: He gave a straight answer to a straight question.”

The entire story in The Beattyville Enterprise
McConnell has said Shelby quoted him out of context. The immediate context, as Shelby wrote it, was: “McConnell was asked by The Beattyville Enterprise what he was going to do to bring jobs to Lee County.” He quoted McConnell as replying, “Economic development is a Frankfort issue. That is not my job. it is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet,” the former name of the Cabinet for Economic Development.

Shelby asked McConnell about public-works projects, and the senator said he was interested in those, but added, “Most comes from the state, though.” Shelby also wrote, “He did say that he is responsible for protecting jobs by ‘pushing back’ against the Obama administration’s restrictions on the coal industry.” 

The most detailed analysis of the controversy was published Friday, July 25 by, a service of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. In a 1,700-word story, writer Robert Farley detailed the progression of the controversy and concluded, “McConnell’s statements make clear that he sees job creation as part of his job description.”

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Grimes faces balancing act on women's issues; Libertarian says he has signatures to get on ballot

Rounding up much of the news and commentary in the race since our last post:
  • Alison Lundergan Grimes faces "a balancing act" as she as she works to get female voters to cast ballots for her "while avoiding the pitfalls Democrats often face in Kentucky on social and cultural issues such as abortion," Sam Youngman writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

    Read more here:
  • Independent Senate candidate Ed Marksberry of Owensboro announced a few days ago that he was abandoning his effort to obtain 5,000 signatures by the Aug. 12 deadline to get on the Nov. 4 ballot, but the Libertarian Party of Kentucky "announced Thursday that its candidate, 42-year-old David Patterson of Mercer County, appears poised" to get enough signatures, Phillip Bailey of WFPL reports. "We're currently sitting right at about 5,000 as of today actually," Patterson, told Bailey. "The 8,000 is our comfort zone." Patterson, right, is a Harrodsburg police officer who makes a habit of carrying a pistol in a holster while off duty.
  • The candidates should accept Centre College President John Roush's proposal for a Sept. 3 debate at the Danville school, Joe Gerth writes in his weekly column for The Courier-Journal, and the Louisville newspaper says likewise in an editorial. A Herald-Leader editorial called on Grimes and Sen. Mitch McConnell to accept the Centre debate and one proposed by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky.
  • Pikeville lawyer Larry Webster, who typically sprays several rhetorical shotgun blasts in his Herald-Leader column, included the Senate race Sunday: "Any place where it is worth spending $100 million to elect a senator ought to be worth staying in. Maybe if we spend $200 million to elect a senator, we might get one with enough foresight to anticipate the obsolescence of coal and do something about the future other than blaming the colored guy."
  • Former Sen. Wendell Ford announced that he is starting chemotherapy for cancer in one of his lungs and another unspecified location, and thus won't be campaigning for Grimes, at least any time soon. Ford's announcement prompted an appreciation from C-J Washington Correspondent Jim Carroll in his weekly column.

    Read more here:

Friday, July 18, 2014

McConnell doubles down on coal by starting 60-second TV spot attacking Grimes and Obama on the topic

By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Sen. Mitch McConnell is doubling down on coal as his central issue in his campaign for a sixth term.

Friday McConnell unveiled a one-minute television commercial, twice as long as the usual spot, that claims Alison Lundergan Grimes supports "President Obama's anti-coal environmental platform," blames Obama for the loss of coal jobs, and calls for "an America . . . that stops the war on coal now."

The ad offers no documentation for the charge against Grimes, which is made with text on the screen, other than a line from coal executive Russell Badgett (who is only heard, not seen, and is not identified in the ad): "Alison Grimes does not stand for the coal industry."

Asked for documentation, McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore cited Grimes's support of the 2008 national Democratic Party platform, which called for "a market-based cap and trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic change." Coal is the main source of carbon dioxide emissions.

A cap-and-trade bill passed the House when Democrats controlled it in 2009, but the bill died in the Democrat-controlled Senate. As an alternative, Obama recently proposed regulations to limit the emission of greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants, which would likely prevent construction of any such plants without devices to capture carbon dioxide produced by burning coal.

Grimes has objected to the regulations. The McConnell campaign noted that she was a delegate to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The platform adopted by the convention called for an "all-of-the-above energy policy," including "clean coal," with incentives to encourage development of such technologies. It does not otherwise mention coal.

The Obama administration has also challenged the coal industry by issuing a "guidance" for issuance of strip-mining permits, in an effort to control water pollution from the mines. The industry's legal challenge to the policy was recently rejected by a federal appeals court.

McConnell's ad strongly implies that Obama's policies, called "the war on coal," are responsible for the loss of coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky, but industry analysts have said there are greater causes, principally cheap natural gas, made abundant by the development of horizontal hydraulic fracturing of deep, dense shales packed with gas. Another unseen person in the commercial says "Coal is being attacked on a lot of fronts," but market forces are not usually described as attacks.

The McConnell campaign said in a news release that the ad is running statewide. Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst replied, "No matter how many ads Mitch McConnell runs, he can't hide from the fact that he has failed to save a single coal job in his 30 years in Washington." Kentucky coal employment has declined for most of that time.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July 15 roundup: Local coverage, big money, abortion-group ads and more gender politics

Here's an illustration of why local news media should cover and record (preferably on video) the Senate candidates when they come to town:
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell "seemed to have little sympathy for students who have accumulated massive amounts of student debt during a town hall with constituents last week," Amanda Terkel writes for the Huffington Post. Asked in Oldham County "what changes should be made so that students aren't leaving school with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt," McConnell said there should be any government intervention and that students should look into schools that are cheaper. "Not everybody needs to go to Yale. I don't know about you guys, but I went to a regular ol' Kentucky college," McConnell said. He is a graduate of the University of Louisville and the law school at the University of Kentucky. Terkel's report was based on a story by The Oldham Era's Taylor Riley, whose report included a 36-minute video of McConnell's remarks.
  • Grimes said she raised more than $4 million in the second quarter of the year, setting a Kentucky record and besting McConnell's $3.1 million. She having reported $6.2 million in her campaign treasury while McConnell reported $9.8 million. Complete reports aren't readily available today because senators have blocked making their reports digital. 
  • Over the weekend, NPR reporter Tamara Keith provided a synopsis of what you could buy in Kentucky for $100 million, the predicted total expenses in the Senate race. "You could buy a bottle of the state's own Maker's Mark whiskey for nearly every man, woman and child in the state," Keith said. The race could end up being the most expensive in history. McConnell's unpopularity in Kentucky created an opening for Grimes, and "not only are the candidates and political parties spending big; so are outside groups," reports Keith.
  • "A national abortion rights group is launching an attack ad against McConnell for 'never doing the right thing for Kentucky women'," Joe Arnold of Louisville's WHAS-TV reports. A NARAL Pro-Choice America spokeswoman told Arnold the group made "a mid-range five-figure ad buy for cable and another mid-range five figure ad buy online in the Lexington and Louisville markets," both of which are modest. Alison Lundergan Grimes said "the Supreme Court 'got it wrong' in the Hobby Lobby case," reports Arnold. McConnell's campaign spokeswoman said, "If you need to know who Alison Lundergan Grimes intends to represent if elected, consider that radical abortion groups are now descending upon Kentucky to run ads on her behalf. The fact that Alison Lundergan Grimes cannot even support Sen. McConnell's common-sense efforts to curb late-term abortions shows Kentuckians that her agenda aligns with President Obama and extreme pro-abortion groups in Washington."
  • McConnell's campaign released a statement regarding McConnell's remarks on the Senate floor today on the "struggles of middle-class women under Obamacare," but the only distinction he made about women was to say that "Research shows that women make about 80 percent of the health-care decisions for their families in this country."
  • McConnell played a little gender politics in criticizing President Obama's decision to replace Cheryl LaFleur as chairwoman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with “a male nominee with less experience,” reports Ramsey Cox of The Hill. "McConnell pointed out that Bay has never served as a state utility regulator or as a FERC commissioner. Republicans and some pro-fossil fuel Democrats opposed Bay’s nomination in committee."
  • "In a web video released Monday, McConnell's campaign counters Grimes's claims about McConnell's stance on Medicare policy with excerpts of last week's news coverage which uniformly reported that Grimes's commercial is misleading," Joe Arnold of WHAS 11 reports. The first 20 seconds of the video begins with Grimes's ad, "then proceeds with clips from local television stories and national fact-checking wings of newspapers which reached similar conclusions about the commercial," Arnold says, but the video does not include "critiques of factual problems with McConnell's commercial produced in response to the Grimes ad.".
  • Grimes' campaign released a statement regarding McConnell's history in Washington and his 2011 vote to advance the budget proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. McConnell "voted against extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed," the statement noted.
  • Harry Enten of Five Thirty Eight writes that polls have over-estimated Democratic Senate candidates' strength in Kentucky and Georgia, the two states where national Democrats are trying to unseat incumbents. In Kentucky, polling data shows Grimes trailing McConnell by only 1.5 percentage points, but the political-statistics website gives her less than a 20 percent chance of winning.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Weekend roundup: McConnell's use of 'jihad' questioned; Medicare debate continues

This roundup may be updated.
  • In his weekly column, Political Writer Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal questions Sen. Mitch McConnell's occasional use of the word "jihad" to describe certain actions of the Obama administration: "The Arabic word for Holy War used in connection with a president who a sizable percentage of Americans incorrectly believe is Muslim, and about whom critics gleefully use his full name — Barack Hussein Obama — to underscore that incorrect impression." Gerth writes that the senator's recent use of the word in Benton, as reported by Suzanne Goldenberg of The Guardian, is "not the first time that McConnell has raised eyebrows when it comes to messaging about Obama and religion," noting that when asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" if he believed Obama is a Christian, McConnell said "The president says he's a Christian. I take him at his word." As for his latest use of "jihad," a McConnell campaign spokeswoman told Gerth, "It's offensive that anyone would suggest this comment is about anything more than this administration's war on coal." Gerth concludes, "We'll take her at her word."
  • McConnell told reporters after a speech in Louisville Friday that Medicare must be changed to save it, but avoided addressing specific solutions, such as raising the eligibility age for it, which he floated as an idea as he "and other congressional leaders wrangled over a budget deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff, Sam Youngman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "What the voters of this state need to know is that no one currently receiving Medicare or likely to be receiving it in the near future would be impacted by any of the changes that we're talking about," he said.
  • The Grimes campaign kept pressing its case on Medicare, saying McConnell was "trying to hide his record by attempting to water down his support for the Ryan budget," a 2011 plan that would have gradually privatized Medicare and raised beneficiaries' out-of-pocket costs. McConnell cast a procedural vote to move the plan forward, but his campaign has said "there is no way to speculate" if he would have actually voted to pass it. The Grimes release notes several instances in which McConnell praised the approach of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Friday, July 11, 2014

McConnell draws applause from bipartisan group of county-government leaders

By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

No U.S. state has suffered more under President Obama than Kentucky, Sen. Mitch McConnell told leaders of the state's county governments in a well-received speech in Louisville Friday.

"No state in America has fared worse under this administration than ours, and it starts with the war on coal," McConnell told the joint convention of the Kentucky County Judge-Executives Association and the Kentucky Magistrates and Commissioners Association.

The bipartisan group was quiet as McConnell laid out his familiar litany on coal, but applauded when he offered a simple formula for solving the crisis of unaccompanied minors streaming into the country from Central America: "Secure the border, treat the children humanely and return them immediately." He acknowledged, "It would probably take a change in law to do that."

McConnell said "a significant part" of Obama's request for $3.7 billion to resolve the border crisis is for the Department of Health and Human Services, "leading me to have the suspicion that they expect these kids to be here for a long time." Typically, he said, undocumented immigrants are given a court date, released, "and a significant percentage of them never come back" to court.

McConnell said Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, in speaking to reporters after her appearance before the group the day before, "seemed not to understand the difference" in Obama's request and the immigration-reform bill that passed the Senate last year, with him in opposition. He said the bill's "provisions with regard to border security were totally inadequate." For video of his immigration remarks, from cn|2's "Pure Politics," click here.

In his initial remarks about his Democratic opponent, McConnell said, "Shes a new face, but she's a new face for the status quo, for no change at all. A new face for the same majority leader, a new face to support the president, a new face for the status quo. So if you're satisfied with the condition of the country an Kentucky, maybe you think that's the right vote for you."

Noting that the officials in the audience are elected on a partisan basis, he said, "My suspicion is no matter what ticket you ran on you're probably not happy with the condition of this country." Earlier, he said knew that many in the crowd are "of the same party as the president. You don't talk about it much anymore, but I know you are."

The senator's closing argument was that replacing him with Grimes would mean "a dramatic reduction in influence in the Senate" for Kentucky, "not to mention a vote for Harry Reid [for majority leader] and the status quo in the Senate. I think it's time to change America." That drew another round of applause from the bipartisan crowd.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

July 10 roundup: Grimes releases Medicare web ad, won't say if she backs Obama immigration request

Alison Lundergan Grimes tried to keep the talk focused on Medicare, not immigration:
  • Grimes released an online-only ad today adding a new wrinkle to her argument with Sen. Mitch McConnell about Medicare: His support for a higher eligibility age for Medicare as part of an overall deal on the federal budget. The ad refers to a Nov. 30, 2012, article in The Wall Street Journal in which "McConnell says a deal on the federal budget might be possible if lawmakers could reach bipartisan agreement on higher Medicare premiums for the wealthy, an increase in the Medicare eligibility age and slowing cost-of-living increases for Social Security," Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. The 48-second web ad is a response to a McConnell television ad released on Tuesday, which replied to Grimes's first attack ad. McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore told Youngman that a web video would not "extinguish the flames on her credibility."
  • Grimes declined four times to say whether she supports President Obama's "request for $3.7 billion to address the immigration crisis on the nation's southern border," Sam Youngman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Grimes "said she was for securing the border and an 'earned pathway to citizenship,' but in her answers to questions about Obama's supplemental request, she repeatedly referenced McConnell's opposition to an immigration reform bill the Senate approved last year." (Read more)
  • McConnell said in a Senate floor speech that Obama appeared to be asking for a blank check "that would allow him to sustain his current failed policy," not "the right tools to solve the problem." For his news release, click here.

    Read more here:

    Read more here:
  • "Will the 2013 and 2014 Fancy Farm Picnic's political speeches be the only time McConnell and Grimes appear on the same stage?" asks Joe Arnold of Louisville's WHAS-TV. Both campaigns have been reluctant to agree on a debate schedule. McConnell's campaign announced Wednesday that he would appear at the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation's "Measure the Candidates" forum Aug. 20. "McConnell has stipulated three 'Lincoln-Douglas' style debates with no audience and a moderator to act only as a timekeeper, Grimes has pushed for audience participation," notes Arnold. Grimes has agreed to appear on KET's candidate forum Oct. 13 but McConnell has not.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

July 9 roundup: McConnell replies to attack with one of his own, using broad claim that doesn't hold up

Looks like both candidates are now misleading on Medicare:
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell responded quickly to Alison Lundergan Grimes' first attack ad by starting one of his own, quoting media criticism of her ad and making a charge that Obamacare hurts Medicare. "McConnell sought to use the misstep to further his strategic goal of tying Grimes to President Barack Obama, who made similar claims about Medicare in his 2012 re-election bid," reports Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Grimes has said she wants to "fix" Obamacare, not repeal it, but "has refused to say whether she would have voted for or against the federal health care law had she been in the Senate at the time," Youngman notes.
  • The ad says Obamacare "cuts $700 billion from seniors' Medicare," but Youngman says the reductions "do not cut benefits for seniors. Instead, the cuts come from reduced payments to providers over a 10-year period." Actually, the "cuts" are not reductions in spending, but "the difference over 10 years (2013-2022) between anticipated Medicare spending and the changes that the law makes to reduce spending," wrote Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post. He noted, in writing about the same claim in the Senate race in North Carolina, that the law gave Medicare beneficiaries "new benefits for preventive care and prescription drugs."
  • In analyzing the same claim by Mitt Romney in 2012, Politifact gave details about the reductions: "They were mainly aimed at insurance companies and hospitals, not beneficiaries. The law makes significant reductions to Medicare Advantage, a subset of Medicare plans run by private insurers. . . . The idea was that competition among the private insurers would reduce costs, but in recent years the plans have actually cost more than traditional Medicare, so the health care law scales back the payments to private insurers. Hospitals, too, will be paid less if they have too many re-admissions, or if they fail to meet other new benchmarks for patient care."
  • FactCheck, also reporting in 2012, said the reductions in anticipate spending will make Medicare more solvent, extending the life of its trust fund by eight years, to 2014. In an analysis of the two attack ads, it faults both of them: "The current Republican proposal is modeled on a plan that would lower seniors' Medicare premiums and total medical costs by 6 percent, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. And past and present GOP "premium support" proposals wouldn't have applied to anyone already getting Medicare.Furthermore, CBO has now effectively retracted the $6,000 figure on which Democrats have always tried to base their claim." It says McConnell's ad is "equally misleading," for the reasons given above.
  • Grimes's campaign called the ad "deceitful" and issued a release saying the retired coal miner in her ad "won't be bullied by Mitch McConnell."
  • McConnell, in a speech on the Senate floor and a release, again invited Obama administration officials to visit the state to see "how their war on coal jobs is harming Kentucky. . . . It’s time for these Washington Democrats to stop pretending that they’re not complicit in the administration’s war on coal jobs, or in the harm that it’s causing to our constituents. Because there’s real pain out there beyond the Democrat echo chamber — out in real world places like Pike County. Washington Democrats need to understand that Kentuckians are more than just some statistic on a bureaucratic balance sheet. These are real Americans who are hurting. And they deserve to have their voices heard. One way to do that, as I’ve suggested, is for the Administration to hold some listening sessions on its new energy regulations in the areas that stand to suffer most from them: in places like Eastern and Western Kentucky."

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Grimes runs 1st attack ad, on Medicare, then deflects questions; AP says use of current senior is off base

Alison Lundergan Grimes started her first televised attack on Sen. Mitch McConnell today, setting off a round of back-and-forth between the campaigns. McConnell has not attacked Grimes with an ad of his own, but his allies have done plenty of that. Today the main "super PAC" supporting him started a new ad attacking her, as "part of the previously announced $4.66 million ad buy by the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition which runs through the end of August," reports Joe Arnold of Louisville's WHAS-TV. It says Grimes avoids answering questions, but she take a similar jab at McConnell in her new commercial.

The ad, "Question From Don," features retired coal miner Don Disney of Harlan County, who says, “Senator, I’m a retired coal miner. I want to know how you could’ve voted to raise my Medicare costs by six thousand dollars. How are my wife and I supposed to afford that?” Grimes and Disney sit silently for a few seconds, then she says, “I don't think he's gonna answer that.”

"McConnell cast no such vote," write Adam Beam and Calvin Woodward of The Associated Press. "The bill he supported in 2011, on which the ad's claim is based, proposed moving ahead on a plan in the House by GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to privatize Medicare over time. Some analysts said that could eventually raise costs for beneficiaries. But elderly people such as Disney — already retired or approaching retirement — would see no changes. . . . Neither Grimes nor her campaign explained why they showcased a Medicare recipient who would have been exempt from the changes proposed under Ryan's plan." Joe Arnold at Louisville's WHAS-TV called the ad "misleading."

In a detailed response, the Grimes campaign cited a National Journal forecast that the bill would "increase costs for seniors before 2022," when privatization would begin; and that the vote also meant McConnell "voted to increase seniors’ drug costs" because the plan would cut nursing-home funds and "repeal protections that keep prescription drug costs down by closing the Part D loophole" (actually, the "doughnut hole" between basic and catastrophic benefits).

The vote was procedural, notes Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal. "McConnell was one of the Republicans who voted to proceed to a vote on the bill. The motion failed," as Republicans surely knew it would. McConnell's campaign challenged the accuracy of the ad and said it "showed that Grimes has "already hit the panic button by resorting to the oldest, most cynical attack in the Obama playbook to scare Kentucky seniors."

"The ad is an attempt both to signal support from miners but also to go after McConnell on an issue where Democrats feel they have the upper hand," reports PBS NewsHour Politics. The Grimes campaign told Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald-Leader that it is spending "six figures" to air the ad statewide,and said in a news release that it is "the beginning of a series of ads that will feature Kentuckians asking critical questions of McConnell."

However, Grimes "bypassed a question Tuesday about what she would do differently" with Medicare, Jacqueline Pitts of cn|2's "Pure Politics" reports. "When asked by Pure Politics what plan she would like to see to shore up the Medicare program for future generations, Grimes moved on to another question. A reporter from the Associated Press asked the same question as Grimes was leaving but she did not respond then either. The Grimes campaign later responded to the question emailed again by Pure Politics with an excerpt from the campaign website in which Grimes says she is running to protect Medicare."

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition started a commercial that "skewers Grimes for dodging questions and muddling answers in the campaign," Arnold reports. "The ad runs through July 16 and is part of the previously announced $4.66 million ad buy by the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition which runs through the end of August."

Monday, July 7, 2014

July 7 roundup: No joint appearance yet; Grimes hits on mine safety; Politico steady on McConnell chances

A near miss by the candidates, and a miss by an editorial . . .
  • The candidates missed an opportunity for their first joint appearance and didn't encounter each other as they rode in the big July 4 parade in Campbellsville. Alison Lundergan Grimes spoke briefly at an opening ceremony that Sen. Mitch McConnell did not attend, and her campaign said today he was "running scared" and "backed out" of the appearance. The latter quote came from Ronnie Ellis's story for Community Newspaper Holdings. He said McConnell cited a scheduling conflict, and a campaign spokeswoman "wouldn’t provide any details about his earlier schedule." We checked the list of speakers for the event at 1:45 p.m. the day before; McConnell was not on it.
  • The Grimes campaign said its opposition "refused to say whether Mitch McConnell supports current legislation to improve mine safety or help coal miners receive much-needed black lung benefits," citing a Sunday story in The Courier-Journal that said "The senator’s campaign did not respond to a question about whether the senator supports either bill" sponsored by West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller and supported by Grimes. (McConnell's official spokesman said the last coal-mine safety law, passed eight years ago, hadn't been in effect long enough to gauge its effects and pass more legislation.)
  • The McConnell campaign circulated an editorial by The Paducah Sun calling Grimes an "acolyte" of President Obama. As its first example, the editorial cited her hosting of liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and their "support for legislation that would allow students to refinance student loan debt at lower rates and force the wealthy to pay for it. We suppose that's her idea of giving students a lesson in personal responsibility -- make someone else pay my obligations." That misstates what Warren's bill would do; it would allow refinancing of student loans "at the lower interest rates that kicked in for new borrowers last summer, which would be financed by closing tax loopholes for millionaires, the so-called Buffett rule," reported Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post.
  • Here's Politico's latest take on the race, written by James Hohmann: "McConnell is very vulnerable, with dangerously low approval and high negatives that belie the state’s Republican lean in federal elections. . . . Grimes has shown she can raise a lot of money, but it’s unclear whether she can hold her own against the wily McConnell in debates and on the stump. Grimes ... benefits from not being in Congress: She didn’t vote for Obamacare and can run as an outsider against a three-decade incumbent. Grimes has distanced herself from the new coal regulations, though she took heat for not broaching the issue during a fundraiser with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid last month. But it’s a tall order for any Democratic challenger to win in the Bluegrass State in this climate." The publication continues to rank Kentucky the seventh most likely state to switch party control of a Senate seat. (Read more)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

McConnell to think tank: GOP must focus on helping middle class, not Wall Street or entrepreneurs

Sen. Mitch McConnell said in a keynote speech to a group of Republicans looking for ideas a few weeks ago "that the time had come for the GOP to stop being the handmaiden to Wall Street and instead attend to the anxieties of the middle class," Sam Tanenhaus reports in The New York Times Magazine.

The first quote in the story, and the only one from McConnell, has him "referring to the visionary hero of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, that sacred text of the libertarian right," Tanenhaus reports. He quotes McConnell as saying, “Our average voter is not John Galt. . . . Hymns to entrepreneurialism are, as a practical matter, largely irrelevant.”

The complete quote, according to a sponsor's transcript, was that Republicans in Washington, "in our rush to defend the American entrepreneur from daily depredations of an administration that seems to view any profit-making enterprise with deep suspicion, have often lost sight of the fact that our average voter is not John Galt. It’s a good impulse, to be sure. But for most Americans, whose daily concerns revolve around aging parents, long commutes, shrinking budgets, and obscenely high tuition bills, these hymns to entrepreneurialism are, as a practical matter, largely irrelevant. And the audience for them is probably a lot smaller than we think. So I do think we’d do well as a party to get down to the basics."

McConnell's speech was to a group of "reform conservatives," who he said are "animated in large part by a desire to prove that at least one party in Washington remains determined to change that and to show in the process that today’s Republican Party has something to offer those Americans beyond a mere rejection of what the other side is selling."

The senator touted three proposals he is sponsoring, including one to "allow working mothers to enter into a voluntary agreement with their employer whereby they would be able bank overtime compensation in the form of time-off rather than more pay." The other two measures he mentioned are longtime Republican favorites: a bill to boost charter schools and a national "right to work" law that would prohibit union contracts that require workers to join a union or pay dues.

In a more interesting part of the speech, McConnell gave his analysis of the national dialectic of the last 100-plus years: "As a coalition party, today’s Democrats simply don’t have room to innovate or to keep pace with the times. That’s why they seem to have been pushing the same ideas for more than a century now. They’re captive to a handful of interest groups that just won’t allow them to think big or innovatively. Occasionally, they’ll try to make a virtue of necessity by casting their commitment to a century-old agenda as a sign of their doggedness, but the truth is they’re simply trapped. It’s been left to us to fill the gaps. In a recent interview with Stephen Colbert, George Will noted that liking things that are old doesn’t make you a conservative; it makes you a liberal. His point wasn’t to suggest that conservatives have given up on preserving institutions that are working as they should. It was to highlight how often liberals won’t even discuss – won’t even discuss – updating or reforming those that aren’t."

McConnell is seeking not only re-election, but a Republican majority that would promote him from minority to majority leader. He devoted much of his speech to criticizing the way Majority Leader Harry Reid runs the Senate and how he would run it differently, allowing more votes on amendments, reinvigorating the committees and creating "a greater level of comity" among senators. In the question-and-answer session, he wouldn't say whether a Republican majority would reverse the rule change that prevented GOP filibusters of President Obama's appointments (except those to the Supreme Court).

The 3,200-word speech was given May 22 at the American Enterprise Institute, two days after McConnell won renomination in Kentucky's primary election. It was videostreamed live at the time, but we were just getting started on this project, so we missed it. Here's a transcript of McConnell's appearance. For a transcript of the entire event and more information about it, click here.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Grimes tries to turn coal conversation to mine safety

By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

In her bid to unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell, Alison Lundergan Grimes has been trying to change the conversation from coal, where President Obama took it last month when he proposed limits on carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. But to keep the votes of Democrats in the state's two coalfields, Grimes has to confront the issue, and this week she tried a new strategy: coal-mine safety.

Grimes laid a wreath at a memorial to the 38 miners
killed in the 1970 Hurricane Creek Mine disaster.
(Lexington Herald-Leader photo by John Flavell)
At the site of a Leslie County disaster that killed 38 miners almost 45 years ago, Grimes told Morgan Lentes of WYMT-TV in Hazard that miners "need to have somebody in Washington D.C. that has their back instead of the big coal corporations," which support McConnell's campaigns. The senator's spokespeople defended his mine-safety record.

In a news release, Grimes accused McConnell of doing "next to nothing to enhance miners’ safety and health," and said she would work as senator to see that the Mine Safety and Health Administration "ensures that mines are as safe as modern technology will allow, deploys a sufficient number of mine inspectors, encourages supervisorial support for inspectors who enforce safety laws, and delivers effective corrective action for multiple, serious or repeated violations. In addition, MSHA and its parent Department of Labor must act aggressively to protect whistle-blowing employees who report safety problems and to back up inspectors who are subjected to intimidation by mine operators."

"Grimes said she supports two bills proposed by West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller," Sam Youngman and Matt Young of the Lexington Herald-Leader report. "One would strengthen whistleblower protections for miners and increase criminal penalties for safety violations. Another would make it easier for coal miners to get black lung benefits and create grants for research into black lung."

Read more here:

Grimes's release also said coal dust in mines must be "within recognized safe limits," and "monitored frequently and accurately.  Violations must lead to effective corrective measures." In April, the Labor Department moved to reduce the dust limit by 25 percent; the coal industry has asked a federal appeals court to review the change.

The release Grimes also said McConnell "turned a blind eye" when the George W. Bush administration "cut more than 100 inspectors from MSHA, which reduced inspections." McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, was labor secretary at the time. The release didn't mention that point, but cited a 2007 Washington Monthly article that did.

McConnell's campaign replied that he supported the last major mine-safety law, which followed disasters in Kentucky and West Virginia in 2006, and his official spokesman, Robert Steurer, told Youngman that the law hasn't been in effect long enough to consider additional legislation.

McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore told WYMT that the senator "fights every day to protect Kentucky's miners from Grimes' liberal allies who need her vote to completely destroy the coal industry."

Grimes linked the coal issues with another major issue in the race, Obamacare. "Grimes also said McConnell's repeated calls for repeal of the federal health-care law [which] made it easier for widowers of miners with black lung to receive benefits," Youngman writes. "McConnell 'has called for a full repeal of these pro-coal miner protections,' said Grimes, in her most specific embrace of the controversial law, which she has said should be fixed instead of repealed."

The United Mine Workers of America is highly concerned about mine safety but is one of the few labor unions that declined to endorse Obama for re-election in 2012, because of his anti-coal policies. The union's Kentucky political committee of is scheduled to meet in Lexington Sept. 18-19 to hear from the Senate candidates and consider an endorsement. The union represents miners at only one Kentucky mine, in the western coalfield, and at some Kentucky processing facilities, but has many retired members in the state.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

July 3 roundup: Grimes gets mostly modest coverage in east; McConnell blames Obama for gridlock

Covering the coverage . . .
  • Alison Lundergan Grimes campaigned yesterday in Whitley, Knox and Bell counties. Here's coverage from WYMT-TV in Hazard. The Corbin Times-Tribune, which said it was notified late of the event, published a photo and caption. The Barbourville Mountain Advocate posted a short story and several pictures. No coverage was found in the Middlesboro Daily News.
  • Today Grimes stopped in five counties, including Perry, where the Hazard Herald's Amelia Holliday reported on the candidate's talk with a small-business owner and posted several pictures. Other stops were in Clay, Leslie, Knott and Powell counties. Only WYMT and the Lexington Herald-Leader covered Grimes' new emphasis on coal-mine safety (see next post). The TV station's opening line was that Grimes was "trying to distance herself from Washington Democrats," and the Herald-Leader story began by saying Grimes acted "With signs pointing to a potentially rocky road ahead in coal country."

    Read more here:
  • The Courier-Journal put Sen. Mitch McConnell on the spot in its story about the impending lack of money in the federal Highway Trust Fund, which has promoted Kentucky to delay several road projects. McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer said his boss “looks forward to the full Senate addressing this important extension once [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid brings the issue to the Senate floor for consideration.”
  • McConnell told a gathering of civic groups in Bardstown that President Obama is primarily to blame for gridlock in Washington because “He is not an active, engaged CEO like Reagan was and like Clinton was. And he is going to have to come in a different direction in order to achieve things in the political center.” Randy Patrick's Kentucky Standard story is here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July 2 roundup: Another military-women mailer, this one more specific

Women's issues are in play today:
  • Adam Beam of The Associated Press looks at Sen. Mitch McConnell's vocal support of the Supreme Court ruling that lets closely held companies opt out of the federal health-reform law's requirement to include contraceptive coverage in mandatory insurance for their employees: "Political observers said McConnell has been talking more about social issues such as abortion during this campaign than he has for most of his 30-year Senate career. That could be a byproduct of this year's Republican primary, where McConnell had to defeat Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin." (Read more)
  • The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a "super PAC" supporting McConnell, has sent its fourth direct-mail advertisement touting McConnell's support of women in the military. It mentions the same issues as before, one with more specifics: bills to take sexual-assault cases out of the chain of command and to allow women to fly combat missions. Earlier ads said the latter bill would give them "more hands-on opportunities." For a copy of the latest ad, click here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

July 1 roundup: McConnell talks social issues in west, Grimes plans to talk jobs, coal, diversification in east

McConnell goes west, Grimes heads east:
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell, who has rarely campaigned on abortion, stressed the issue in a meeting with the editorial board of The Paducah Sun. He linked the issue with "Monday's Supreme Court decision that rejected the contraceptives mandate for some Christian corporations" under federal health reform, reporter Carrie Dillard writes. Alison Lundergan Grimes, who supports abortion rights, opposed the ruling.
  • Grimes's campaign announced that she will campaign Wednesday and Thursday in eight Appalachian counties, seven of which have coal mines. "Alison will speak with voters about her commitment to strengthening the middle class, protecting Kentucky’s coal industry and making smart investments to diversify our economy for the future," said a news release. She will be in Whitley, Knox and Bell counties Wednesday and in Clay, Leslie, Perry, Knott and Powell counties Thursday. Only Powell has no coal.