FRANKFORT — After months of speculation about who might seek to challenge U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in next year’s election, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes announced Monday that she is throwing her hat in the ring.
Grimes chose to start her campaign with a soft launch, announcing her intention to run at a press conference. Aides later said a more official campaign kickoff will take place in the next few weeks.
Grimes has been the subject of rumors about whether or not she would seek to take on McConnell over the last several months. Her name surfaced as a potential candidate immediately after actress Ashley Judd announced in March she would not enter the race, but she refused multiple times to confirm or rule out her intention to challenge the five-term incumbent.
During the press conference, Grimes said the past 12 weeks were an exercise in careful deliberation.
“Make no mistake, members of the media, this due diligence was not reluctance, it was not hesitancy, but rather a deliberate gathering of all the necessary facts to make a decision that should not be taken lightly,” Grimes said. “During this process the question never was: ‘Is Mitch McConnell vulnerable? Does Kentucky deserve a change?’ The answer to both of those two questions remains and is yes. The question before my supporters which we have been working diligently on is, ‘How best can we continue to make a difference and move this commonwealth forward?’”
McConnell’s reaction to the announcement was to attempt to define the contrast between himself and Grimes to his advantage.
“Accepting the invitation from countless Washington liberals to become President Obama’s Kentucky candidate was a courageous decision by Alison Lundergan Grimes and I look forward to a respectful exchange of ideas,” McConnell said. “The next 16 months will provide a great opportunity for Kentuckians to contrast a liberal agenda that promotes a war on coal families and government rationed health care with someone who works everyday to protect Kentuckians from those bad ideas. Together we’ve invested a lot to ensure that Kentucky’s voice in the U.S. Senate is heard from the front of the line rather than the back-bench and I intend to earn the support to keep it there.”
Outside of the campaigns, reaction to the announcement varied, depending on party affiliation. On the Democratic side, Gov. Steve Beshear pledged his support.
“I am very excited that Allison Lundergan Grimes has entered the race for the United States Senate, and pledge to do everything I can to assist her in defeating Mitch McConnell,” Beshear said. “For 30 long years McConnell has reigned over partisan dysfunction and played political games, bringing Washington, D.C. to a standstill instead of getting things done for the people of the Commonwealth and the nation. Secretary Grimes will be a strong candidate who will fight for our families and our nation.”
“I am thrilled that Secretary of State Allison Grimes has entered the race for the United States Senate,” said Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon. “Secretary Grimes will be a strong, positive candidate for the Democratic Party who will work for Kentucky families, and end Mitch McConnell’s 30-year legacy of just working for himself. Kentucky Democrats stand united in our efforts to defeat Senator McConnell.”
On the other side of the aisle, the reception was less than enthusiastic. In Washington, National Republican Senatorial Committee’s Executive Director Rob Collins wasted no time in defending McConnell.
“Mitch McConnell has always put the people of Kentucky first and will keep fighting for them no matter how hard the liberal left tries to stop him,” Collins said. “Sen. McConnell is engaged in the most innovative, modern, and effective campaign in history and will make the case that conservative ideas will protect Kentucky from the radical assault on their livelihood being waged by President Obama, Harry Reid and Alison Lundergan Grimes.”
Collins also revealed what will likely be the McConnell campaign’s gameplan of tying Grimes to national Democrats who they believe are not popular in Kentucky.
“Just last year, Alison Lundergan Grimes stood proudly at the Democratic National Convention to nominate Barack Obama, who has followed through on his promise to destroy the coal industry; in essence declared a war on the state of Kentucky and the middle class families who call it home,” Collins said. “Kentuckians have absolutely no reason to send Alison Lundergan Grimes to Washington to help pass the policies of a President whom they adamantly oppose and to elect a liberal Senate Leader who declared, ‘coal makes us sick.’”