Sunday, August 31, 2014

MoveOn.org ad attacks McConnell for Koch remarks; his camp contrasts Jerry Lundergan's Obama views

MoveOn.org, which says it "campaigns for progressive change," has started advertising in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race, with a 30-second spot about Sen. Mitch McConnell's remarks to a June meeting of big Republican funders hosted by brothers Charles and David Koch. The Grimes campaign has a 50-second web ad based on the remarks, touching more on the substantive issues at the end of the recording. UPDATE, Sept. 1: A second web ad came out Sunday.


Today, McConnell's campaign issued a press release saying the "Grimes camp" had undergone "a campaign conversion" on President Obama, contrasting the past favorable statements about the nation's top Democrat by Alison Grimes's father, Jerry Lundergan, with a quote from him in today's New York Times: “My daughter has never had a conversation with Barack Obama and probably never will, unless he wants to help Kentucky.” The release has no quotes from Grimes, but the Times story had one: “Kentuckians know how to do arithmetic, and they realize that the president has two more years left on his term and we are electing a senator for the next six.”

Analyzing the latest Bluegrass Poll, the three major newspapers' reporting of it, and the pitfalls of polling

By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The latest Bluegrass Poll shows Sen. Mitch McConnell with a lead of 46 percent to 42 percent over Alison Lundergan Grimes Monday, Aug. 25 through Wednesday, Aug. 27. Here's how the state's two major newspapers, The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader (which co-sponsor the poll with WHAS-TV and WKYT-TV) reported the results, with some illustrations of the pitfalls of polling:

In print, the Herald-Leader put its story under a floating H-L nameplate, with news of the University of Kentucky football game above. The headline was "McConnell extends lead over Grimes," with a small-capitals, one-column subhead: "SENATOR HOLDS HUGE ADVANTAGE IN EASTERN AND WESTERN KENTUCKY." The poll was The C-J's top story, with a one-column headline, "Poll gives McConnell 4% lead on Grimes," and a subhead: "Third consecutive poll to show lead widening." (The Kentucky Enquirer in Northern Kentucky, a sister Gannett Co. paper, used the C-J's story in a very similar way.)

Technically, 4 percent is not the same thing as 4 percentage points, because of those who are undecided and chose Libertarian David Patterson; "4-pt." would have fit in the narrow width. More importantly, while McConnell has gained in the last three polls, all the results are within the polls' error margins, so the published results are only the most likely results within a range of possibilities. And the error margins apply to each candidate's percentage, not the difference, so in theory there is a small chance that Grimes could be ahead. But three straight polls showing her losing ground is a newsworthy trend.

C-J political writer Joe Gerth reflects that and the probabilities by writing at the start of his third parargaph, "It's the third consecutive Bluegrass Poll that has found McConnell improving his chances for re-election in November." In his first paragraph of his story, he writes, "Mitch McConnell has put a little more distance between him and his Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, but the race remains within the margin of error."

H-L political writer Sam Youngman began his story by writing that McConnell's campaign "has gained momentum in the last month, propelled by huge leads . . . in Western and Eastern Kentucky and among men." After giving the results, Youngman writes, "McConnell's showing is his best to date in the Bluegrass Poll, but the race remains well within the poll's margin of error ...". That margin means that whatever statewide momentum McConnell has is small, but he clearly does have momentum in Western Kentucky, where he posted a 23-point lead after leading by only 5 points there in July. (The error margin for the western sample is plus or minus 8.8 percentage points.)

Online, the Herald-Leader's headline,"Gaining momentum, McConnell holds 4-point advantage over Grimes," reflected Youngman's emphasis. The C-J headline took a different focus, with this headline: "McConnell favorability improves in Bluegrass Poll." That part of the poll isn't reported until the 19th paragraph of the story, which said McConnell "continues to improve his standing with voters, even though 46 percent still view him unfavorably and only 36 percent view him favorably. That's considerably better than the poll found last winter when 50 percent viewed him unfavorably and only 27 percent viewed him favorably." However, the July poll showed his rating as 43 percent unfavorable and 36 percent favorable, so his rating actually worsened in the latest poll, albeit well within the error margin of 3.9 percentage points among registered voters. Told that, the newspaper changed the headline to "McConnell expands lead in Bluegrass Poll."

The error margin for the poll's Senate-race question was 4.2 percentage points, because that question was asked only of people who said they were likely to vote in the race. But the small difference in those figures reflects the fact that of the 647 registered voters surveyed, 569 said they were likely to vote in the race. That would be a turnout of 88 percent, which history says will not happen -- far from it. Historically, turnouts in elections where a Senate race is at the top of the ballot are slightly under 50 percent. So, the poll's sample includes a lot of people who said they would vote but won't.

How does that skew the results? In recent years, turnout in non-presidential federal elections like this one has fallen most among Democratic-leaning voters, so history indicates that McConnell is even more likely to win than the poll indicates. However, he may also have a turnout problem, because 40 percent of the Republicans who voted in the May primary chose someone else. The May election was McConnell's first real primary, and may have shaken some Republicans' willingness to go to the polls for him on Nov. 4. People often act differently than they tell pollsters they will act, yet Youngman wrote that McConnell is "locking up 79 percent of Republican respondents" in the poll. (Emphasis added.)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

McConnell, in wake of manager's resignation, starts ad attacking Grimes for bus deal with father

If the gloves weren't already off in Kentucky's race for the U.S. Senate, they are now.

Hit by the resignation of its campaign manager in a bribery scandal from his last campaign, the campaign of Sen. Mitch McConnell launched a television commercial about "potentially illegal campaign contributions from her father," in the form of less-than-market rate rental of her campaign bus. This is McConnell's toughest ad yet.

Democratic consultant says Grimes should add debate

A Democratic political consultant says Alison Lundergan Grimes should accept a Sept. 5 debate with Sen. Mitch McConnell, while a Republican consultant says Grimes would be better off passing it up.

Consultant Bob Gunnell said on this morning's "The Powers That Be" on WHAS-TV that if he were Grimes, he would accept the debate proposed by the station.

Republican consultant Les Fugate said, "If I'm her I would like to avoid all debates with Senator McConnell," who knows the issues better and is skilled at exploiting any Grimes "hiccup."

The station offered the candidates several dates. McConnell picked Sept. 5, saying it was the only one on which he was available. Grimes rejected it, on grounds that she had a longstanding commitment to attending a reunion at her alma mater, Rhodes College in Memphis.

The show also includes a "quasi-debate" between McConnell and Grimes over his plans to attach policy riders to funding bills if he becomes Senate majority leader, using pieces of the interviews the candidates gave to CNN and MSNBC.

In other comments to WHAS's Joe Arnold, Gunnell said the Bluegrass Poll that will be released tonight at 8 EDT will be "the most important of her campaign" because McConnell has been gaining and if his lead increases, Grimes's national fundraising "basically comes to a halt unless she reverses it." UPDATE: Though the poll showed McConnell increasing his lead to 4 percentage points from 2 in late July, Grimes "still has very much a shot to win, and money will still continue to flow into her campaign," Gunnell told Arnold for his story on the poll.

The show was taped before the resignation of McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, but includes a short report on the investigation that led to it, including Benton's statement to Arnold last year that he was unaware of any payments by Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign to the Iowa state senator who pleaded guilty Wednesday to concealing payments he received from the campaign before he switched his allegiance to Paul, shortly before the Iowa caucuses. Benton was Paul's political director.

In another interview on the show, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth said Grimes "doesn't have to do any more attacking" of McConnell in her advertising, because the senator's job rating is so low and so many Kentuckians are disposed to vote against him. But he said she needs to show that she is "a viable, credible alternative they would prefer to Mitch," and he said Grimes's most recent ad does that.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Manager quits McConnell after Iowan pleads guilty in investigation of Ron Paul campaign the manager ran

Jesse Benton
Jesse Benton, the campaign manager for Sen. Mitch McConnell, resigned this afternoon "as a bribery scandal from the 2012 presidential campaign threatens to envelop Benton and become a major distraction for McConnell's campaign," Sam Youngman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

This morning, Politico reported in its "Morning Score" update, "McConnell's campaign isn't paying much heed to the drama in Iowa over former Iowa state legislator Kent Sorenson's guilty plea to charges stemming from his accepting money to change his endorsement in the 2012 GOP caucuses from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul. Jesse Benton was the chairman of Paul's 2012 campaign and is now running McConnell's tough reelection fight . . . Benton has not been accused of wrongdoing, and we're told there's been no change in his role." The campaign told Politico it wouldn't be appropriate to comment because McConnell had nothing to do with the Iowa caucuses or the investigation.

This afternoon, The Courier-Journal published a story about the matter, noting that a former McConnell consultant was also in that Paul campaign, and that a 2013 complaint to the Federal Election Commission alleged that both he and Benton were aware of the bribe, according to the Des Moines Register, which published a story about it in March. In a transcript and recording of a phone call published by The Iowa Republican website, Sorenson allegedly told a Paul campaign aide, "Oh, I know that Jesse knows. I know Jesse knows" about a check he got from Benton's deputy but did not cash."The conversation occurred days after Sorenson endorsed Paul, according to the Iowa Republican," The C-J's Jim Carroll and Joe Gerth report.

Then came Youngman's story, which said it was based on "a statement provided first to the Herald-Leader. . . . Benton told the Herald-Leader that he met with McConnell Friday afternoon and offered his resignation, which McConnell 'reluctantly accepted.' . . . He maintained his innocence, faulting 'inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors'," which he said were becoming a distraction to the campaign.

Charly Norton, spokeswoman for Alison Lundergan Grimes's campaign, issued a terse statement: "Senator McConnell owes the people of Kentucky a full account of what he knew and when he knew it." UPDATE, Aug. 29: Before a parade in Tompkinsville Saturday morning, McConnell declined to answer questions from Ronnie Ellis of Community Newspaper Holdings.

Youngman writes, "Benton's role with the McConnell campaign was viewed as a surprise within the political arena given his close ties to the Paul family. In addition to running Paul's presidential campaign, Benton also ran U.S. Sen. Rand Paul's 2010 Senate campaign in Kentucky, and he is married to the older Paul's granddaughter.

"When Benton joined the McConnell camp, observers viewed it as a ploy by McConnell to quiet a restless Tea Party and win favor with Rand Paul. That view was reinforced last year when a secret recording of Benton was released in which he said he was 'holding my nose' working for McConnell in an effort to better position Rand Paul for a 2016 White House run. When the tape became public, Benton expressed his regret for letting down McConnell."

On KET's "Comment on Kentucky" Friday night, The Courier-Journal's Joe Gerth said Benton's departure won't disrupt the McConnell campaign: "I don't expect them to miss a beat because of it." However, Jack Brammer of the Herald-Leader said it is "too early to say how it will affect the race."

UPDATE, Aug. 29: In Politico's Playbook, Mike Allen quotes "an official close to the McConnell campaign" as saying: "The truth is that Josh Holmes has been doing the top job on McConnell's campaign since April. The staff had been restructured pre-primary; the lines of authority were clear. And everyone close to McConnell says he doesn't make any political decisions without Holmes. The headlines about Benton's potential involvement in an Iowa scandal ‎threatened to be a major distraction for a campaign that is largely pulling away from his challenger for the first time. Benton understood he was a potential liability and elected to eliminate himself from the equation rather than take the risk of garnering more headlines for McConnell. His departure, while a short term distraction, changes basically nothing inside Team Mitch."

UPDATE, Aug. 30: Nick Storm of cn|2's "Pure Politics" quotes Manu Raju of Politico: “Josh Holmes was seen as the key decision maker and Jesse’s role had become more focused on grassroots tactics and conservative outreach, which was even more critical during the primary.” Storm's stiry has other reaction and a timeline of the episode, going back to the 2011 allegation by Bachmann that Sorenson had been paid for his support.

Grimes does friendly national TV interview, out-raises McConnell in N. Ky.; Bluegrass Poll coming 8 p.m. Sat.

Heading into Labor Day weekend with some interesting developments . . .
  • Joe Gerth, political writer for The Courier-Journal, reports on his Facebook page that the results of the latest Bluegrass Poll will be published at 8 p.m. Saturday.
  • Alison Lundergan Grimes has raised more than twice as much money in "conservative Northern Kentucky" as Sen. Mitch McConnell, which "might indicate tepid support for McConnell among Republicans," writes Scott Wartman of The Kentucky Enquirer. "Some suggest residual resentment over tea party candidate Matt Bevin’s loss to McConnell in the primary might be in play among Republicans in Northern Kentucky."
  • In a video of less than two minutes, Madeline Marshall of Politico nicely sums up the how Kentuckians' concerns about leadership figure in the race.
  • Grimes appeared on MSNBC's "The Last Word" last night, and host Lawrence O'Donnell said it was "her first national television interview about her campaign." Aside from her usual talking points and her mantra of "30 years," Grimes said this about Sen. Mitch McConnell's recently revealed remarks in June to a group of big Republican funders: "These audio recordings, they go farther than any stump speech Mitch McConnell has ever offered" or votes he has cast, she said. "These tapes reveal that if re-elected, he won't even consider a vote to raise the minimum wage," extend unemployment benefits "and making college more affordable for our students" by reducing interest rates on student loans. . . . "I believe the majority of Kentuckians believe in these common-sense solutions as to how we grow the middle class and finally get Washington working."
  • O'Donnell, who was a friendly interviewer, asked Grimes about McConnell's recent statement that he would not shut down the government as part of his plan, if he is majority leader, to attach policy riders to funding bills. She said voters "can no longer trust him" because he let the Farm Bill lapse and the government shut down last year. "He’s the one who is so out of step with the values we have in the commonwealth of Kentucky, he’s willing to choose millionaires and billionaires over the hardworking people here in this state," she said.
  • Asked to cite her main disagreements with President Obama, she said of McConnell "wants to run this race against anyone but me," and "The gridlock, the mess that he’s created in Washington, well, it’s why the president is wrongly ruling by executive order. … The people of Kentucky, they know that I’m a strong, independent Kentucky woman who will do what’s right for the people of this state. You seek to have the best interest of this state at heart, and I’ll work with you, but you seek to strike at the good jobs that we have here in Kentucky and you will find no stronger opponent." McConnell's campaign noted in a press release that she didn't name an issue on which she disagrees. For a nearly complete transcript of the interview, click here.

In new TV ads, Grimes touts experience, McConnell asks why she backed Obama after he targeted coal

Alison Lundergan Grimes started a new television commercial today, the first in which she mentions her experience as secretary of state, a post to which she was elected in 2011. She uses that as evidence that she can help produce jobs, which she has tried to make the centerpiece of her campaign. The office's main duties are keeping business records and overseeing elections; an ad for Sen. Mitch McConnell has questioned her lack of experience.

In the 30-second spot, in which she speaks throughout, Grimes notes "landmark legislation" she worked to pass "to guarantee that military votes could be counted, bringing Republicans and Democrats together." The ad does not mention that major provision she proposed, to allow electronic absentee voting by service members, was rejected by the Republican-controlled state Senate.

She also mentions her work as "a volunteer lawyer for victims of domestic violence. I know how to fight for those with no voice, and win." Her closing has the ad's only attack line: "Washington's broken, and Kentucky needs a new senator."

Later today, Sen. Mitch McConnell started a new ad, using some of the same themes as earlier ads and those from the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a group funded by unknown donors. It notes news-media criticism of some of Grimes's earlier ads, implying that they all fell short of the truth; and asks "Why was she a delegate for Obama's re-election after he vowed to bankrupt Kentucky's coal industry?" He did not make such a specific pledge, but said he wanted to block construction of new coal-fired power plants by imposing heavy fees on their greenhouse-gas emissions. The ad closes with what has been McConnell's campaign motto since primary-election night: "Obama needs Grimes, but Kentucky needs Mitch McConnell." Another McConnell ad that started this week features sound clips from a McConnell stump speech about coal.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

McConnell says he wouldn't force government shutdown; GOP challenges Libertarian's signatures

Sen. Mitch McConnell keeps leading the news about the race, and the bus won't go away:
  • "In his strongest words to date, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell tried to quash talk that he would allow another government shutdown if he becomes Senate majority leader next year," Dana Bash reports for CNN. "It's a failed policy," McConnell told her.
  • Bill Goodman of KET interviewed Jonathan Martin of The New York Times about his 6,000-word profile of McConnell, which will be in the newspaper's printed magazine Sunday. Martin said of the senator, "The fact that his career has been interpreted as, not accidental, but not necessarily illustrious, bothers him, and he wants to really put an exclamation point on his career by winning this year, in what could be his last race." Near the end of the 18-minute interview, there's a great story about how McConnell developed his tough attitude at an early age, and Martin reveals that some of the material he gathered will be posted in smaller bits on the magazine's website later.
  • The controversial bus being used by Alison Lundergan Grimes's campaign "does not appear to have the proper permits required to operate the charter bus," Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal reports.
  • Grimes will appear on "The Last Word" on MSNBC tonight at 10 ET.
  • The state Republican Party has asked county clerks to verify the names and addresses on the petition filed to get Libertarian candidate David Patterson on the ballot. Grimes, the secretary of state, certified Patterson's name to the clerks Monday for placement on ballots. Ballots must be printed by Sept. 15. State Republican Chairman Steve Robertson told the Lexington Herald-Leader on Thursday that Republicans found "clearly fictitious and fabricated names," and "We believe very strongly" that Patterson has not qualified. Patterson told the newspaper that more than 5,700 "good signatures" were among the 9,000 submitted. "At least 5,000 valid signatures of registered voters are needed to get on the Nov. 4 ballot," Sam Youngman reports.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Magazine's audio, transcript: McConnell disses wage-floor boost, extra help for student debtors, jobless

A recording of Sen. Mitch McConnell, apparently done in secret, has him disparaging minimum-wage increases, extended unemployment benefits and relief for student-loan debtors, according to The Nation, a liberal magazine that published the barely audible recording and a transcript today.

After discussing his recently revealed plan to attach policy riders to funding bills, to force President Obama to veto them and/or negotiate, McConnell said, according to the transcript:
"We’re not going to be debating all these gosh-darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate, is vote on things like raising the minimum wage (inaudible) – cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment – that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh. These people believe in all the wrong things."
McConnell was answering questions after speaking June 15 at a California "donor summit" held by Charles and David Koch, brothers who have been two of the leading financiers of conservative causes and Republican campaigns in recent years.

"The main thrust of McConnell’s remarks to the Koch conference were about his pet issue, campaign finance, which he regards as a matter of free speech," Lauren Windsor reports for The Nation. According to the magazine, he said "the worst day of my political life" was when President George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold law, "the bill that banned soft money and unlimited donations to party committees," Windsor writes.

"McConnell promised his party’s rich backers that he stands with them, no matter the cost to Kentuckians and this nation," the Alison Lundergan Grimes campaign said in a press release.

The McConnell campaign didn't dispute the transcript, but cast the senator's remarks as no different from his stump speeches and a forthright defense of the coal industry that it said Grimes has been too timid to defend: "Earlier this summer Grimes failed to utter a word of support after promising Kentuckians she would defend Kentucky coal at a Harry Reid fundraiser and lord [sic] knows what she said to Tom Steyer and anti-coal billionaires when she attended their conference in Chicago."

New York magazine and New York Times publish long stories about the race and McConnell

Two major examinations of the race were published online today. They are worth your time, but we only have time and space for a couple of teasers:
  • Jonathan Martin, the national political correspondent for The New York Times, has a long story about Sen. Mitch McConnell in the newspaper's magazine, which will be in the print edition Sunday. His interview with Grimes doesn't appear until the last two paragraphs:
  • “I think that he is continuing to show just how out of touch he is with the state — the days of being able to bully your way and to buy your way back to Washington, D.C., are over,” she said, sticking to her talking points, as she did on most every question I posed. When I asked Grimes if she thought McConnell’s insider-outsider tactic was working — despite the fact that he had been in the Senate for 30 years and she was a genuine newcomer — she replied, “That is a campaign tactic that he is trying to use, to claim somehow that he’s the victim.” In the end, however, it seemed as though McConnell had found a way to make the race about Obama rather than himself. Somehow, he had yet again become the outsider. Maybe the guy still had it.

  • The pivot point in the long story by Chris Smith of New York magazine is an interview with Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee:
    • Is this race about Mitch McConnell and national ideology and national partisanship, or is it about Kentucky?” Cecil says. “In the polling, voters side with Democrats on pocketbook issues. We have to make sure they go into the voting booth with that being the first thing on their minds. If they do, I think Alison will win. McConnell only wants to talk about Barack Obama. This is going to be a two-point race in either direction. And it’s going to be close all the way to the end.”

    Monday, August 25, 2014

    Roundup: Grimes claims McConnell plans to shut down the government; contest has Georgia connections

    Roundup for Aug. 25:
    • Alison Lundergan Grimes launched a 30-second web ad casting Sen. Mitch McConnell's plan to attach policy riders to funding bills as a bid to "shut down the government again." The ad is based on McConnell's interview with Politico, published last week, in which he said that if he becomes Senate majority leader he would attach the riders on environmental and other issues to force President Obama to accept policy changes or veto the bills and/or negotiate. The ad accurately uses Politico's description, "McConnell has a game plan to . . . risk a government shutdown," but also uses this line from MSNBC: "McConnell isn't even being subtle . . . Republicans will simply shut down the government." That leaves out an important qualifier in the story: "If the White House refuses to go along." A Grimes fundraising solicitation, emailed today, mentions the shutdown last October and says "McConnell said that if he wins, he'd do it again," incorrectly implying that he caused the shutdown. McConnell said after the Politico interview was published, "I'm the guy who gets us out of government shutdowns. I don't believe in government shutdowns." UPDATE, Aug. 26: The Grimes campaign went farther in an email today, saying McConnell "promises to shut down the government again."
    • E.J. Dionne, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and columnist for The Washington Post, writes for The National Memo that "Grimes and the Democrats need to confront McConnell forcefully on the issue he has tried to fudge: A flat repeal of Obamacare would mean taking insurance away from the more than 521,000 Kentuckians who, as of last Friday, had secured coverage through Kynect. How would that sit with the state’s voters?" Dionne cites polls showing voters have a marginally favorable opinion of Kynect, the state's health-insurance exchange, and an ad by Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in the Arkansas Senate race, "touting his vote for the health-care law as a positive for the people of his increasingly Republican state. Pryor’s ad is so soft and personal that it’s almost apolitical." That's because it involves his own cancer, and his father, former Sen. David Pryor, says “Mark’s insurance company didn’t want to pay for the treatment that ultimately saved his life.”
    • Grimes and McConnell will appear together tomorrow afternoon at the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce's Red, White & Blue Picnic on the north lawn of the Daviess County Courthouse, on Second Street. "The event begins at 5 p.m., and McConnell and Grimes will be the first two speakers, beginning at 5:15 p.m," Steve Vied reports for the Messenger-Inquirer. "More than 20 other candidates for national, state and local offices are scheduled to speak."
    • Kentucky is one of two states where a female Democrat is trying to capture a Republican-held seat. In Georgia, Democrat Michele Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, posted a 7-point lead over recent Republican nominee David Perdue in an Aug. 20-21 poll by Landmark Communications for WSB-TV, mainly on the strength of an 18-point lead among women. However, Nunn trailed by 7 in an Aug. 12-13 poll for InsiderAdvantage and WAGA-TV and by 9 in a SurveyUSA poll taken Aug. 14-17. Grimes and McConnell were virtually tied among women in recent polling. For a report by David Lightman of McClatchy Newspapers, click here.
    • Perdue and McConnell met recently and buried the hatchet, reports Phil Kent of InsiderAdvantageGeorgia: "In answering a question during a primary debate, the “outsider” Perdue vowed that he wouldn’t vote for McConnell as the Senate GOP leader in a party caucus vote. But that was then and this is now. This writer questioned Perdue spokesperson Derrick Dickey as to whether his boss, if elected, would “re-consider” voting for McConnell as caucus leader whether the Republicans take control of the Senate or not. Dickey, who once handled communications for former Gov. Sonny Perdue, was precise: Perdue “would support the GOP leadership when he comes to D.C.” Dickey also pointed out that, at this point, no other senator is running against McConnell. And Dickey concluded by proclaiming that Perdue “felt good” about the McConnell meeting. This “era of good feeling” is a welcomed sign – especially when one considers that a Perdue Facebook posting says that, if elected, he will request a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee," an appointment McConnell would make. Kent asks, "Will the Kentucky media and/or McConnell’s Democrat opponent bring up that GOP candidates like Perdue said they “oppose” the veteran Republican as their leader? And how would McConnell respond?"

    Sunday, August 24, 2014

    Grimes dealings 'no-win'; McConnell shuns Sun. shows; H-L writers wonder about candidates' age contrast

    Sunday news and commentary, mainly the latter . . .
    • Joe Gerth of The Courier-Journal says in his Sunday column that the Alison Lundergan Grimes campaign's dealings with her father's companies was "a no-win situation for Grimes because it gave U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's campaign a reason to draw Jerry Lundergan into the fray. And that's something McConnell, R-Ky., has been itching to do ever since Grimes entered the race 13 months ago."
    • In a news story, Gerth reports "The Jefferson County Republican Party said it asked a volunteer at its Kentucky State Fair booth to leave after the man told fair-goers, including a Courier-Journal reporter, that the Obama administration won't prosecute African Americans for voter fraud and suggested that President Barack Obama is a Muslim."
    • Kevin Wheatley of The State Journal in Frankfort details the dueling complaints to the Senate Ethics Committee about McConnell and to the Federal Election Commission about Grimes. "The complaints will likely linger into and past the Nov. 4 election," Wheatley writes. "A review of FEC complaints show the agency taking months, if not years, to settle disputes, and the Senate ethics committee typically does not launch formal investigations within 60 days of an election."
    • McConnell "has all but disappeared" from Sunday talk shows, reports Jim Carroll of The Courier-Journal. "McConnell's low-profile on Sunday appears to be part of a campaign strategy designed to distance the senator from Washington and avoid the potential for controversy, political observers said."
    • Larry Dale Keeling of the Lexington Herald-Leader says both candidates "performed admirably" at the Kentucky Farm Bureau forum: "McConnell was much better than he was on the Fancy Farm stage and displayed a veteran senator's knowledge of national issues. Grimes obviously had studied those issues well enough to hold her own. But my takeaway from the forum had nothing to do with anything either one of them said." McConnell remained seated while Grimes went to a lectern, and "each of the 10 times Grimes passed behind McConnell's chair provided an image of stark contrast: a 35-year-old woman on the move past a 72-year-old man in a sedentary position. I'm 67, and sedentary is a personal friend. So, trust me, I would opt to remain seated, as McConnell did. But the contrast between energetic youth and not-so-energetic non-youth captured in those 10 moments is there for the taking if the Grimes camp can figure out a way to exploit it without crossing the ageism line." H-L political writer Sam Youngman made a similar point Friday.

    Saturday, August 23, 2014

    Roundup: Grimes using short version of opening TV commercial; reporters analyze the week

    A quick roundup and catch-up:
    • Alison Lundergan Grimes is running a 30-second version of the one-minute television commercial that started her general-election broadcast campaign.
    • Courier-Journal Washington correspondent Jim Carroll writes in the paper's weekly summary of the race that the candidates' two joint appearances this month remind us that they have very different messages and styles: "McConnell is attempting to nationalize his bid for a sixth term, while Grimes is seeking to make the contest Kentucky-centric." He also offers a review of their Farm Bureau performances: "In the small room and on the webcast, she came off as a bit strident and rehearsed. McConnell "obviously had prepared his key talking points as well. The only interplay between McConnell and Grimes came in the digs they had pre-cooked for each other."
    • On KET's "Comment on Kentucky" Friday night, Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald-Leader said the Kentucky Farm Bureau forum was a mirror image of the Fancy Farm Picnic in that "Mitch McConnell probably had a better day." But later in the show, talking about the stark contrast of a young woman and an old man, he said, "You never know what role optics like that will play in an election that's this close."
    • Regarding questions about whether Grimes paid her father's company enough for rental of her campaign bus, Youngman said, "At the beginning of the week I thought this was a yawn of a story. . . . When I started paying attention was when different stories came out of the Grimes campaign." He said average voters don't care about such things, but they raise issues of trust and Grimes is still largely unknown to many voters. Phillip Bailey of WFPL said the espisode "raises issues of how [a] Senator Grimes would behave," and "This isn't the first time" that her "relatively inexperienced campaign staff" has "fumbled," quashing their momentum.
    • Shane Goldmacher of the National Journal, who broke the story about the political donations to McConnell that followed his lunch with the CEO of Delta Air Linessums up the dueling complaints against the candidates: "It's unlikely either complaint will be resolved quickly. Instead, both parties are likely hoping to generate negative headlines about the other. The Senate Ethics Committee rarely issues any public statements and the gridlocked FEC is generally not fast to act on complaints it receives." That's the Federal Election Commission.

    Thursday, August 21, 2014

    Grimes, McConnell show some big differences in the closest thing yet to a debate in the race

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

    LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Sen. Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes came the closest they have yet to a debate at the Kentucky Farm Bureau forum Tuesday, and their clearest differences on big issue were on health care and immigration.

    Grimes was the most detailed she has been in a public discussion about health-care reform. Grimes indicated that she supports Kynect, the state health-insurance exchange, created by Gov. Steve Beshear and funded by Obamacare, where people sign up for Medicaid or buy insurance.

    “For the first time ever, because of our governor, 500,000 Kentuckians are able to go to the doctor, their kids get checkups before school, and many of them are farm families in rural Kentucky,” she said. “The law isn’t perfect but we have to work to fix it. . . . We have to work to streamline the Affordable Care Act, to make sure there aren’t over-burdensome regulations on our businesses, especially our small businesses.”

    Grimes endorsed President Obama’s delay in the law’s employer mandate and suggested that he should also live up to his promise that “If you like your doctor, you can keep it.”

    She actually appeared to be referring to keeping old insurance policies, because her next words were, “We should be working to extend that grandfathering clause so we live up to that promise that Washington politicans made to Kentuckians. . . . It requires a senator, though, who doesn’t want to repeal root and branch the access to health care that Kentuckians just got for the first time.”

    McConnell answered, “She won’t use the words, but she supports Obamacare, he single worst piece of legislation that’s been passed in the last half-century.”  He said Obamacare is going to cost jobs and it “ought to be pulled out root and branch and we ought to start over.”

    McConnell said what should have been done is “truly national competition among health-insurance companies to keep prices down and quality up,” as well as “a national medical malpractice standard to bring some sanity to the litigation lottery that’s confronting every health-care provider in America; and thirdly, we need to allow small businesses to form groups for the purpose of more purchasing power on the open market.”

    Citing a study by the Congressional Budget Office, McConnell said the law will only cover 10 million of the 40 million people who were uninsured, and will “cost 2.5 million jobs.” The study says the predicted reduction, through 2024, will come “almost entirely because workers will choose to provide less labor,” not because jobs will be eliminated.

    McConnell said Kentucky will not be able to afford its expansion of the Medicaid program, which covers about three-fourths of the newly insured. “She applauds it,” he said. “It’s fine for the governor because the first three years the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the tab, but after that, the state’s going to be in serious financial problems.”

    On immigration, Grimes argued that if McConnell hadn’t “stood in the way” of a comprehensive reform bill that passed the Senate but died in the Republican-controlled House, ”We might not see the crisis we see at the border today,” with unaccompanied minors streaming across.

    Grimes endorsed the bill’s “pathway to citizenship,” but McConnell said only legal residency is needed to attract needed workers and “We shouldn’t do comprehensive; I think we need to bust it up,” into separate bills. “Obamacare was pretty comprehensive.” “We need to make changes, more merit based, to people who can immediately help our country, he said.

    Grimes started out by saying McConnell had broken a promise to pass a farm bill last year, and said farmers were disadvantaged by the lack of a law for several months. McConnell said, “No one was disadvantaged by any of that.”

    Grimes, who stood at a lectern to answer each question, repeatedly jabbed at McConnell for being a no-show at Senate Agriculture Committee meetings. McConnell, who remained seated while speaking, cited his awards from Farm Bureau for legislative accomplishments and said afterward, “She doesn’t really understand the legislative process,” in which party leaders “have more consequential things to do” than attend committee meetings.

    In her opening statement, Grimes said if McConnell, “Never has a senator been paid so much to do so little for the people of Kentucky and it’s come at the expense of our farm families.” She ended her statement by saying, “It requires, members of the Farm Bureau, putting out to pasture a senator of the past.”

    The candidates alternated answering first to a series of questions posed by Farm Bureau directors.

    Asked about international trade and marketing, Grimes said, “I believe in free and open trade but it must be fair trade.” McConnell cited the lack of action on trade agreements under Obama and said, “The biggest winners of trade agreements are American agriculture and her supporters are totally opposed on everything you believe in on trade.”

    When asked about fiscal policy and how they plan to balance the budget, McConnell said “The best answer to the deficit is to get the economy growing,.” and said that could be done by reducing the regulatory efforts of the Obama administration, which he said constitute the main reason that the economic recovery has been slow.

    Referring to our national debt, Grimes said “There are 17 trillion reasons why Kentucky needs a new senator.” She said the country fought “two wars on credit cards” in Afghanistan and Iraq, referring to the deficits and debt built up after the tax cuts of the George W. Bush administration.

    On tax policy, McConnell said he was responsible for getting a $5 million exemption in the estate tax, and then for making it permanent. Grimes said she is in favor of an additional $5 million exemption for agricultural estates. McConnell said he would “like to get rid of the death tax entirely.”

    Both candidates said they are against expanded water regulation by the Environmental Protection Agency, but McConnell said Grimes would enable those efforts because she would vote for Harry Reid as majority leader if she is elected.

    Referring to Republican prospects of taking over the Senate, McConnell said he has a good chance of becoming majority leader. He made the case that he gives Kentucky “a distinct advantage” by being one of the only two Senate party leaders Kentucky has ever had, and can increase that as majority leader.

    Grimes, slapping McConnell and Obama in the same passage, said "Washington isn't working for us. . . . He's the reason the mess exists. He's the reason the president is wrongly using executive orders."

    Wednesday, August 20, 2014

    McConnell says his plan for policy riders on funding bills is not intended to shut down the government

    In a wide-ranging interview with Manu Raju of Politico last week, published today, Sen. Mitch McConnell made clear that if he becomes Senate majority leader, he would use appropriations bills to force concessions from President Obama on environmental and other issues, including anti-coal and water-pollution regulations.

    Raju described the strategy as forcing Obama to "accept bills reining in the administration’s policies or veto them and risk a government shutdown," and that brought almost immediate howls of protest from Democrats. But McConnell said after a forum today with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, "I didn't use that word at all. ... I'm the guy who gets us out of government shutdowns. I don't believe in government shutdowns."

    McConnell told Raju, "We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy. That’s something he won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it." Raju notes, "If Obama refuses to accept such measures, a government shutdown could ensue. Republicans bore much of the blame for last year’s government shutdown, which was prompted by conservative tactics McConnell opposed, and their fortunes rebounded only when the administration bungled the rollout of Obamacare."

    The senator's main target is the Environmental Protection Agency, which has proposed to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants, a dagger to the already suffering Appalachian coal industry, and to extend its Clean Water Act regulations to all "waters of the United States," which McConnell called "every puddle in America" at a forum sponsored by the Kentucky Farm Bureau, whose national parent is a leading opponent of the idea.

    Raju's story dealt mainly with the workings of the Senate, and he did not delve into policy details, but McConnell has already tried to add an EPA rider to an appropriations bill, and he made clear during and after the forum that those two regulatory efforts will be his targets if he is re-elected, Republicans take control of the Senate and he becomes majority leader. And he indicated that he hopes for some bipartisan leverage: "There are many Democrats who share our concerns."

    UPDATE, Aug. 21: Democrats have been "firing back" at McConnell's "suggestion that Republicans, if they win control of the Senate, would possibly threaten to shutdown the government to force policy changes from President Barack Obama," reports Mark Murray of NBC News. White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer tweeted, "McConnell's case for a GOP Senate -- more shutdowns, more brinkmanship, more gridlock, less progress." Murray reports, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, "Once again, we're seeing that Republicans see government shutdowns as partisan tools, not economic disasters. It's exactly this kind of reckless gamesmanship that led to the last shutdown and is leaving the door open for another at the end of September. For the sake of our economy, this Republican Congress needs to take shutdowns off the table once and for all."

    Grimes set the tone with attack, but McConnell handled the issues better at Farm Bureau forum

    Our story on the Kentucky Farm Bureau forum has been delayed by the storm and lack of electricity at our student reporter's place in Lexington, but the reviews on today's first true exchange between the major candidates are coming in.

    "Kentucky's U.S. Senate candidates had a hard time talking about farming without slinging mud," report Adam Beam and Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press. "Grimes set the tone early by attacking McConnell in her opening statement for his prolonged absences from the Senate Agriculture Committee. . . . The Senate's top-ranking Republican quickly shot back at the forum that the farm bill he eventually helped pass was a good deal but 'It's probably not as good a deal as a $400 a day tour bus,' a reference to the campaign bus Grimes rented from her father's company that the McConnell campaign has said could be a potential illegal campaign gift. McConnell also tried to blunt the criticism for missing committee meetings. He told reporters afterward: "I think she doesn't really understand the legislative process. If you're the leader of one of the parties, you have more consequential things to do than simply go to hearings."

    "McConnell presented himself as the real 'change agent' in the Kentucky Senate race on Wednesday, arguing in a candidate forum that ... Grimes actually represents 'the status quo.' Grimes, meanwhile, said it is time to put the minority leader -out to pasture' after 30 years in the Senate, framing the election as a choice between the past and the future," reports James Hohmann of Politico Pro (behind a paywall). "McConnell, 72, looked relaxed and came across as well-versed in agricultural issues — dropping a lot of Washington-type jargon and referring to specific provisions in bills to showcase his experience.

    Grimes, 35, sounded rehearsed, her answers hewing closely to talking points. The first-term secretary of state mispronounced the legislative word 'omnibus' and overly gestured with her hands, a distracting nervous tick [sic]. McConnell stayed seated at a conference table as he fielded questions, and Grimes answered from behind a podium." Actually, it was a lectern, but Americans seem to have renamed the thing.

    Wall Street Journal video report sees stark contrast in race, explores reasons McConnell has won 5 terms

    "It's a dark time to be a member of Congress," which has dismal approval ratings, "but do Americans ever really throw the bums out?" asks Sara Murray of The Wall Street Journal in a nearly five-minute video report on the race.

    Murray notes that 21 of 23 incumbent senators who sought re-election in 2012 won, but says "Senator Mitch McConnell is in the political fight of his life" because of some unusual circumstances. "This time Mitch McConnell doesn't have the fundraising advantage he's used to," Murray says, noting Grimes' s strong fundraising and the many groups on both sides that are spending money.

    "It's not just the Grimes fund-raising operation that's posing a threat. It's tough to draw a starker contrast between two candidates," she says, noting the huge differences in age and experience. "That contrast has the Grimes campaign betting it can win over women and young voters, and inspire the kind of people who might not normally turn up in the midterms."

    So how has McConnell never lost a race in Kentucky? Murray asks his two most prominent foes: Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who lost to him in 1996, and Matt Bevin, the Louisville businessman who is "still smarting" from his defeat by McConnell in this year's Republican primary.

    Asked why McConnell has won five times, Beshear replied simply, "Money."

    Bevin said of the primary, "I think the number-one reason that he won was because of the seniority and the perception that somehow that is good for Kentucky, that somehow there's still bacon left to be brought home. . . . Everyone wants to throw the bums out, but just the other guy's bum."

    Tuesday, August 19, 2014

    Grimes' spending with father's firms questioned; McConnell ally starts 'death tax' ad as forum nears

    Setting the stage for the candidates' first true face-to-face exchange, coming Wednesday:
    • Alison Lundergan Grimes has been rolling around Kentucky in a 45-foot tour bus, attending rallies and taking photos next to the vehicle. "Her father’s company acquired the bus just as the campaign got underway last year — and is renting it to his daughter for a fraction of what other companies would typically charge," reports Manu Raju of Politico. "Grimes paid less than $11,000 through June to rent the bus for at least 24 days, amounting to about $456 per day. Officials at four bus companies said they typically charge $1,500 to $2,000 a day to rent a similarly sized bus,"  Raju reports. McConnell's campaign reported it spent at least $2,200 a day to rent a bus of roughly the same size. "The spending highlights the central role" Grimes's father, caterer Jerry Lundergan, "is playing in his daughter’s bid to unseat McConnell," Raju writes, reporting his companies have received $35,000 from the campaign. According to legal experts, the difference between what the company charges "and the fair market value of the bus rental could be considered an illegal in-kind contribution. . . . The Grimes campaign disputes that it is paying less than the fair market value for the bus, saying it went above and beyond to ensure that its payments reflect comparable prices of other similar vehicles." For a video report from Politico, click here.
    • The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition launched a new TV ad, highlighting the effect of the estate tax on farmers in Kentucky. KOC senior adviser Scott Jennings said, "With the Kentucky State Fair underway and farmers from around Kentucky gathering in Louisville to celebrate our state’s rich agriculture heritage, we thought it was a prime opportunity to once again educate citizens on the devastating effect of the death tax and the need to join Senator McConnell’s efforts to repeal it."
  • McConnell started a new ad responding to Grimes's ad that starts out with an attack on his wealth, saying it is an attack on his wife, Elaine Chao, because it is based on "his wife's inheritance after his mother died." A release from McConnell's campaign last week, making similar points, cited a Fortune magazine story that said Chao's father "delivered the bulk of the couple's wealth in a 2008 gift valued between $5 million and $25 million," one of the ranges in which such assets are reported on Senate personal financial disclosure forms. The gift was a bequest following the death of Chao's mother.
  • The candidates meet at 2 p.m. today at Kentucky Farm Bureau headquarters in Louisville for the federation's "Measure the Candidates" forum, their first true back-and-forth discussion. They will answer a series of questions on agriculture and rural issues, and the format allows them to respond to each other. The forum is open to Farm Bureau officers, selected staff and the news media but will be videostreamed live at www.kyfb.com/livestream<http://www.kyfb.com/livestream.
  • One topic of discussion at the forum will be the Republican's absences from meetings of the Senate Agriculture Committee, writes Alexandra Jaffe of The Hill, noting "McConnell’s public schedule reveals many times when he’s missed hearings but has still managed to make time for media appearances or meetings on issues far removed from Kentucky’s farmers." UPDATE: Grimes posted a 30-second web ad on the issue.
  • Monday, August 18, 2014

    McConnell agrees to KET debate (no Patterson), gets help from NRA mailer; editor defends jobs quote

    Finally, a real debate has been scheduled; and there's more news and commentary:
    • Sen. Mitch McConnell has accepted KET’s invitation to debate Alison Lundergan Grimes Oct. 13, three weeks before the election and about six weeks after Labor Day, when he wanted to end a series of debates he proposed. "Host Bill Goodman will moderate the debate and ask questions, and viewers will be allowed to call in with their questions, said Tim Bischoff, a spokesman for the state's educational television network," reports Joseph Gerth of The Courier-Journal. "Josh Holmes, an adviser to McConnell, said that the campaign is in discussions about other potential debates but has nothing to announce at this time." Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst said their campaign hopes for "several more debates."
    • Bischoff said Libertarian Party candidate David Patterson did not meet the criteria that the network said must be met by Aug. 15, including acceptance of at least $100,000 in campaign contributions and getting at least 10 percent support in an independent, professional poll.
    • The National Rifle Association has sent a mailer to Kentucky residents that says,"McConnell will stop the Obama/Bloomberg Gun Control agenda . . . the biggest threat to your Second Amendment rights in Obama's final years in office. ' of President Obama and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg." Kevin Willis of WKYU-FM in Bowling Green notes that the mailer was sent shortly after it was revealed that McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, is on the board of a charity created by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
    • McConnell "might have kept in mind his wife’s membership on boards of a couple of organizations that aren’t enamored of coal before he based his case against Alison Lundergan Grimes on her association with some who also don’t love coal," writes Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service. McConnell now must "defend his own association through his wife’s involvement on the boards of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Wells Fargo." Meanwhile, Grimes's allies in the legislature "squirm as the Kentucky Coal Association and its president, Bill Bissett, come to McConnell’s defense time and again. After years of kowtowing to King Coal, no matter how outrageous some of its excesses, they clearly have no leverage over KCA, which supposedly doesn’t endorse candidates — but clearly supports McConnell over Grimes."
    • McConnell introduced legislation that addresses infants born on opiates and maternal addiction, a problem that is increasing in Kentucky. He said in a press release that the bill would "help identify and disseminate recommendations for preventing and treating maternal addiction so that we can reduce the number of infants born dependent on opiates and other drugs," and "encourage the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to work with states to improve the availability and quality of research data to help them respond more effectively to this public health epidemic."
    • Edmund Shelby, editor of The Beattyville Enterprise, wrote a commentary for The Courier-Journal standing by his article in April on McConnell's statements about jobs, a prime focus of attacks by the Grimes and her allies. Shelby had asked McConnell basic questions in a brief interview before a luncheon. When Shelby asked the senator what he was going to do to bring jobs to Lee County, an off-guard McConnell said, "Economic development is a Frankfort issue. That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet." McConnell added that he was fighting the Obama administration's proposed restrictions on coal, and Shelby reported that, too. McConnell claimed Shelby quoted him out of context, but Shelby said the context was very clear: "I firmly believe that Sen. McConnell committed the cardinal sin of all career politicians: He gave an honest answer to a journalist’s question."

    Saturday, August 16, 2014

    McConnell calls Grimes ad an attack on Chao; could set up attack on Lundergan; camps talk debates

    The weekend conversation is mainly about Alison Lundergan Grimes's new TV spot:
    • Grimes "has set aside her folksy, light-hearted television ad series 'Questions for Mitch' in favor of a traditional attack ad, as recent polls show her losing ground in a tight race with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell," writes Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "McConnell's campaign labeled the ad an attack on the senator's wife, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, although the ad never makes a direct reference to Chao. Because the ad mentions McConnell's personal wealth, the majority of which was inherited from Chao's family, the McConnell campaign countered that it represented another attack on Chao." The ad says McConnell has become a multi-millionaire in public office; Youngman notes, "The bulk of McConnell's wealth comes from a gift Chao's father, an immigrant-turned-shipping-magnate, gave the couple and an inheritance she received after her mother died in 2007."
    • The ad "does try to infer that there might be some misbehavior or some misuse of his position," Kentucky Gazette Editor Laura Cullen Glasscock said on KET's "Comment on Kentucky" Friday night. (She meant "imply," not "infer," which is what viewers may do.) Panelist Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News said, "The underlying thing they want to get across is that he has become a creature of Washington and has lost touch with hard-working, blue-collar Kentuckians." Glasscock added, " . . . that he's not one of us, doesn't represent the citizen any more."
    • Ellis said the McConnell campaign's response is another indication that it may make an issue of Grimes's father, former state Democratic chair Jerry Lundergan. He noted that McConnell told Lana Bellamy of CHNI's Ashland Daily Independent, "If Jerry Lundergan were my father I'd be careful about bringing family into this." Noting Lundergan's 1987 conviction, for doing business with the state while a state legislator, which was overturned because it was later ruled a misdemeanor and the statute of limitations had run, Ellis said, "I think there's a very good chance were going to see that, then Grimes could respond at Chao." WHAS-TV's Joe Arnold noted that such attacks could be done by allied groups that are legally required to act independently of the campaigns.
    • Also on "Comment," Arnold reported that the McConnell and Grimes campaigns have had their first "face to face meeting" to discuss debates. "Comment" airs again at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday, and Monday on KET KY at 8 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. ET.

    • Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2014/08/15/3381856/alison-lundergan-grimes-shifts.html?sp=/99/322/&ihp=1#storylink=cpy

    Friday, August 15, 2014

    Roundup: Grimes ad says McConnell laughed about the jobless; he meets w/evangelicals; race's ranking slips

    So what was he laughing about? Listen for yourself  . . .
    • Alison Lundergan Grimes launched her toughest attack ad of the race today, a 30-second spot that says Sen. Mitch McConnell became a multi-millionaire in public office but voted repeatedly against raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits, and for tax breaks that support sending jobs overseas, "and when asked about it, just laughs." The punch line refers to the end of a session McConnell had in January with conservative radio talker Lars Larson, who did not favor McConnell's proposal to extend unemployment benefits in return for a year's delay in the individual health insurance mandate. They sparred about the topic for most of the eight-minute interview, and McConnell said Larson had some good points. As Larson bid goodbye, he chuckled and said he hoped McConnell would vote no (against his own plan). That brought a laugh from McConnell; during it, Larson added, "at least for the long-term unemployed," and McConnell replied, "Yeah," in a tone that could be interpreted as sarcastic. The Grimes campaign raised the issue in January, and the Lexington Herald-Leader did a story with the audio from the show.
    • Grimes slipped a bit in the latest poll, and the race slipped again in the monthly rankings of Senate races by "The Fix" column in The Washington Post, down to No. 9 from No. 7, with No. 1 being the race most likely to decide control of the Senate: "The Democrats' best shot at a pickup might be in the Bluegrass State, where polling continues to show one of the tightest races in the country," but various models make McConnell a strong favorite – "in large part because the state is so red. FiveThirtyEight says McConnell has an 80 percent shot to win, and the Post pegs his chances even better than that." UPDATE, Aug. 16: "The Upshot" of The New York Times gives Grimes only a 12 percent chance of winning.
    • On Thursday, McConnell answered questions from a panel of evangelical pastors, where he discussed "abortion, gay marriage and the persecution of Christians in Iraq . . . a rare discussion of social and religious issues for the Republican," report Adam Beam and Bruce Schreiner of The Associated Press. Grimes was absent. "Organizers invited her to the forum in Bowling Green — and two subsequent forums in Louisville and Somerset later this month — but the Grimes campaign has not said whether she would attend," the reporters write, noting that the candidates rarely discuss their faith.
    • Schreiner also writes that Grimes said "McConnell has some explaining for his wife's role as a board member of an organization that has spent $50 million to close coal-fired power plants." Grimes has yet to say if she thinks former labor secretary Elaine Chao "should resign from the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies, a charity founded by former New York City mayor and media mogul Michael Bloomberg," Schreiner writes. Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear chimed in at the same state-fair event that Grimes attended and said, "Arguing that you're the champion of coal and then being together with groups ... that are anti-coal doesn't seem very consistent to me." McConnell said his wife will not resign from the board.

    Thursday, August 14, 2014

    Roundup: Grimes gets some heat at state fair; McConnell makes 5 stops in western coalfield

    At the breakfast starting the Kentucky State Fair, politicians serve food and make news:
    • Alison Lundergan Grimes is taking some heat on social media today as she attends the state fair. WHAS-TV reporter Brooke Hasch quoted her as saying she was there "with the people," while Sen. Mitch McConnell was in Washington. Actually, Congress is in recess and McConnell is in Bowling Green today, as Hasch later noted
    • At the Commodity Breakfast kicking off the fair, Grimes was "the face everyone was looking for," but wouldn't do live interviews, reports WDRB-TV, which tweeted that it was going to get one and asked after it learned otherwise, "Grimes walks away from with interview Rachel Collier seconds before going live. Why?" She did record an interview with the station, discussing McConnell's votes against the most recent version of the Violence Against Women Act, saying "I guess he was before it before he was against it," and defending her support for raising the minimum wage.
    • Following the theme of his latest commercial, McConnell made five stops in the West Kentucky Coalfield yesterday, three with Sen. Rand Paul, including "a Greenville trucking business that hauls coal to power plants," Joy Campbell reports for the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer. "It was a near perfect backdrop for McConnell to try to convince jobs-hungry Muhlenberg countians that he needs a sixth term to help defend the coal industry against the Obama administration. McConnell has only carried the strongly Democratic county once, "But this is a different kind of year, and the people here care about the Obama administration's 'war on coal,' he said." Campbell notes that Grimes "touts her endorsement by the United Mine Workers of America and says she supports not just the coal industry, but specifically coal miners, their jobs and their safety."

    Wednesday, August 13, 2014

    Politifact labels 'mostly false' McConnell's TV ad replying to Grimes' 'half true' spot on women's issues

    Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning service of the Tampa Bay Times, determined that Sen. Mitch McConnell's latest television commercial is "mostly false." The ad features his wife, former labor secretary Elaine Chao, responding to Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes' ad asking why he voted twice against the Violence Against Women Act and "equal pay for women."

    In his response ad, a narrator says McConnell "voted for even stronger protections" than in the version he voted against in 2012 and 2013. Democrats included three new components -- "protection for LGBT people, immigrants and American Indian women who are abused on the tribal land by non-natives," Politifact notes.

    Republicans rejected those, and "offered their own versions" of the legislation that included mandatory minimum sentences. "However, advocates of domestic violence awareness were specifically against the inclusion of these provisions," Politifact notes. They "worried that long mandatory minimums would 'keep victims who were assaulted by someone they know from reporting' and would create other issues in sentencing."

    "McConnell’s campaign also noted that the Republican amendments required that 30 percent of the grant money given to states and localities to train and assist law enforcement in combating violence against women must be set aside for sexual assault," Politifact reports. "The Democratic bill put the figure at 20 percent, but this was more a shift in priorities than anything."

    Politifact's ruling boiled down to this: "McConnell could argue that the mandatory minimum sentences Republicans required in their alternative made for a 'stronger' bill, but advocates of domestic abuse awareness opposed this measure as unnecessary. And the Republican measure was absent several protections for certain groups that were included in the bill Obama signed. McConnell is within his right to oppose those provisions, but it makes it hard for him to prove that he supported 'stronger' legislation."

    As for the Grimes ad to which McConnell is responding, Politifact rated it half true, "given McConnell's history of voting for the act at times." His ad notes that he was an original sponsor of the act -- one of only three Republicans, Politifact noted. He didn't sponsor the first version that passed, but voted for it as part of another bill. He voted against the final version, which included provisions added by the House, including "a much more controversial assault-weapons ban," Politifact says. It also cites an analysis of the ad by FactCheck, which was reported in this blog last week.

    Grimes puts Aug. 26 Owensboro picnic on schedule, setting up second meeting with McConnell in a week

    The candidates for the U.S. Senate are scheduled to meet twice in one week, starting a week from today, but not in debates.

    Alison Lundergan Grimes has agreed to appear at the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce's Red, White & Blue Picnic on Aug. 26, Keith Lawrence of Owensboro's Messenger-Inquirer reports. "U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell had confirmed his appearance earlier."

    On Aug. 20, Grimes and McConnell will participate in a Kentucky Farm Bureau "Measure the Candidates" forum at the organization's Louisville headquarters, which will be videostreamed live. The next morning, they will be at the group's annual Country Ham Breakfast at the state fair, but Grimes won't be among the speakers.

    The Owensboro picnic is scheduled for 5 p.m. CDT on the north lawn of the Daviess County Courthouse, on Second Street. "McConnell and Grimes will take the stage at 5:15 p.m.," Lawrence reports.

    "They will each have five minutes to speak," Chamber President Amy Jackson told Lawrence. "The incumbent goes last in each race."

    "The picnic, sponsored by AT&T, is free and open to the public," Lawrence reports. "A free meal, cooked by the Daviess County Cattleman's Association, will be served to the first 300 people in line. People should bring lawn chairs, Jackson said."

    Efforts to arrange a debate between the candidates have been unsuccessful. McConnell proposed three "Lincoln-Douglas style" debates this summer, and has not agreed to a statewide televised forum that KET has scheduled for Oct. 13. Grimes has said McConnell's requirements are too rigid and negotiations have failed.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2014

    Roundup: McConnell's side nears 2-1 edge in TV outlay as poll shows him leading by 4 pts.; Patterson gets 7%

    The biggest wire service takes a look at the race, and there's a new poll . . .
    • Sen. Mitch McConnell has been using President Obama's obvious unpopularity in Kentucky to his advantage, and he and his allies outspent Grimes on television "by a nearly 2-1 margin," reports David Espo of The Associated Press in an overview of the race. He datelined it Harlan, one of the stops on McConnell's coal tour last week, in which the senator sought "the support of coal miners and their neighbors in Eastern Kentucky, a region he split with his Democratic challenger in most recent race in 2008. That year, Obama got only 41 percent of the vote statewide, a number that dropped to 38 percent in 2012," Espo notes. "McConnell rarely mentions Grimes by name, preferring instead to campaign against Obama and 'those people,' an undefined group he says "are not the kind of people we have here in Kentucky."
    • Alison Lundergan Grimes released a new web ad today that emphasizes her focus on jobs. The ad includes footage from her rallies last week with President Bill Clinton in Hazard and Lexington and shows the enthusiasm of crowds and their embrace of the issue, especially in Eastern Kentucky. Clinton picks up the cudgel that McConnell gave Grimes: "One candidate says it’s ‘not my job’ to create jobs. The other candidate, from the get-go of her campaign, put out a Kentucky Jobs Action Plan. And it’s good, I’ve read it."
    • Libertarian David Patterson's filing for the Nov. 4 ballot could hurt McConnell by attracting Republicans who voted for Matt Bevin in the May primary, Michael Patrick Leahy writes for Breitbart.com, a popular, conservative website: "It's conceivable that Grimes could ride pro-Bevin defectors to Patterson to victory. . . . But for the Libertarian candidate to receive 75,000 to 125,000 votes from Tea Party supporters will require more than a mere endorsement from the UKTP," the United Kentucky Tea Party, an informal coalition that backed Bevin in May. "Such a result will require a boots-on-the-ground door-knocking effort, and despite the lingering hostility among Kentucky Tea Party members towards McConnell, that level of organization has not yet been reached." Polls indicate that Patterson takes votes about equally from McConnell and Grimes.
    • McConnell leads Grimes 44 percent to 40 percent among self-described likely voters, with 9 percent undecided and 7 percent for Patterson, in an automated telephone poll taken Aug. 7-10 by Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina firm that usually works for Democrats but averages only a slight Democratic lean in its results. The poll showed Grimes's name recognition at an all-time high, but skewing negative, with her job approval at 41 percent and disapproval at 45 percent. That may reflect McConnell's edge in TV advertising, which has attacked Grimes and linked her with Obama, whose job rating in the poll was 32 percent approve, 63 percent disapprove. However, the race remains up for grabs because McConnell's job rating is 37 percent approve and 54 percent disapprove; 11 percent of women, a key group for Grimes, are undecided; and the poll's error margin was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. For the PPP release, click here; for the poll results, go here.

    Monday, August 11, 2014

    Grimes's office says guns-and-gay rights Libertarian candidate filed enough signatures to get on ballot

    Libertarian David Patterson filed a nominating petition with more than enough signatures Monday to get on the Nov. 4 ballot for the U.S. Senate, adding a dose of uncertainty to the close race.

    Patterson, a Harrodsburg police officer who openly carries a gun while off duty, "turned in more than 9,100 signatures to the secretary of state's office," run by Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, reports Jack Brammer of the Lexington Herald-Leader. "At least 5,000 valid signatures of registered voters are needed to get on the Nov. 4 ballot. Grimes' office took about two hours Monday afternoon to determine that Patterson had provided an adequate number of valid signatures." The filing deadline for third-party and independent candidates is Tuesday.

    In the Bluegrass Poll taken in July, Patterson drew 7 percent of the vote, apparently equally from Grimes and Sen. Mitch McConnell. He "does best among younger voters and independents along with those who might change their mind, at 18 percent," notes Phillip Bailey of Louisvile's WFPL.

    On his campaign home page, Patterson, 43, says "Our government has overstepped it's [sic] bounds and has compromised our way of life. . . . My goal is to maximize individual liberty, by curbing government interference into your personal daily life. I will accomplish this by working with other elected officials in voting to eliminate wasteful government spending, to consolidate redundant government functions, and to phase out government departments and programs that have outlived their usefulness. I will fight for us to allow Kentucky to determine its own future, and not have the Federal government mandate the details of our lives. And I will protect our civil liberties as Kentuckians, Americans, and individuals."

    Other pages on the site also illustrate how Patterson might draw from both major candidates. On the biographical page, Patterson calls himself "an outspoken activist for equal rights for minorities and LGBT persons, and for his strong opposition on violence against women and children." His platform page says he opposes limits on civil liablity, a position held by most Democrats, and favors replacing the income tax with a sales tax, an idea favored by many Republicans. His regional issues page mentions only ideas for the Brent Spence Bridge in Northern Kentucky.

    Roundup: Post analyst says GOP likelier to gain Senate, but McConnell race Dems' top pickup chance

    Rounding up the weekend coverage and commentary, and more recent items:
    • Mitch McConnell's main positive argument for his re-election, that he would become Senate majority leader, gets a boost from Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, who writes that a Republican takeover is now "a better than 50-50 proposition." But he also writes that the Kentucky race, not an open seat in Georgia, "seems the better opportunity" for Democrats to take a Republican seat, given "McConnell’s middling poll numbers and the able campaign being run by state Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Polling gives McConnell a slight edge, but even his most ardent supporters acknowledge that his vote ceiling is somewhere between 51 and 52 percent." But he said a McConnell loss "looks possible — but not probable — at the moment."
    • In his fortnightly column in The Courier-Journal, Al Cross (publisher of this blog) analyzes the week that began with the Fancy Farm Picnic, saying "Grimes needed a win at Fancy Farm, and she got it;" looks at her ad on women's issues and McConnell's response ad, featuring his wife, Elaine Chao; notes stories that could turn the race more personal; and ends with the candidates' battle for the East Kentucky Coal Field, where the percentage of uninsured people has dropped to record low levels but "Grimes still seems scared to come close to anything associated with Obama, much less Obamacare."
    • The candidates' Eastern Kentucky crowds looked identical but had sharply divergent views, writes Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service: Grimes supporters "see an American society built by the middle class, a middle class they believe should always be expanding. But they see that dream faltering as the rules now seem stacked against them by rich and malevolent powers which get richer and richer at the expense of hard-working families whose incomes are shrinking. They see the coal economy by which many escaped poverty, and many more hope to, crumbling beneath them and their region." McConnell backers "are just as alarmed by the demise of coal in Eastern Kentucky. . . . To these folks, outside forces, alien, socialist forces, people who don’t like us, are malevolently working to destroy our way of life."
    • Catching up with the weekly papers: The Record of Leitchfield reported last week that Grimes, on her way to Fancy Farm, stopped at Rough River Dam State Resort Park and got a little rough, telling supporters she was wearing "butt-kicking boots—the boots I’m gonna wear to kick Mitch McConnell’s butt out of his Senate seat."