A showdown is set in Kentucky

A showdown is set in Kentucky
A showdown is set in Kentucky
Associated Press

On 37 recent occasions, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has sent out press statements mocking Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D), usually for not having launched a U.S. Senate campaign. That changed yesterday.

Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky secretary of state, announced on Monday that she would take on Senator Mitch McConnell in what is likely to be one of the most costly, high-profile and sharp-elbowed races of 2014. […]

“I’m no stranger to being an underdog,” Ms. Grimes, 34, said at an afternoon news conference in Frankfort, denying that she felt intimidated by mocking advertisements that Mr. McConnell and his supporters mounted pre-emptively against her last week. “His ads are based out of fear of losing his 30-year grip on power, and this Kentucky woman does not believe the voters of Kentucky will be fooled that easily.”

To put it mildly, Democratic leaders, most of whom consider McConnell vulnerable, urged Grimes to run. This included a lobbying effort from former President Bill Clinton, a long-time friend of Grimes’ father, Jerry Lundergan, a former chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party.

And as of yesterday, it worked.

On paper, one might be tempted to think this won’t be much of a contest – McConnell is a ruthless Republican incumbent in a “red” Southern state, sitting on a massive pile of cash. Grimes is a young Democratic challenger who’ll soon face some of the most blistering attacks of any candidate in the nation in the upcoming cycle.

But in practice, this race is likely to be quite competitive.

Don’t forget, as recently as late May, Public Policy Polling surveyed a hypothetical match-up pitting McConnell against Grimes, and found the two tied at 45% each. Sure, that’s before the Republican attack machine gets into gear, but it’s a terrible place for an incumbent to start.

Indeed, as we talked about in April, McConnell has been in a state of near-constant panic about his re-election all year – he’s unpopular with the right and left; he helps define “Washington insider” (McConnell entered the Senate when Grimes was in second grade); and he has no real accomplishments about which to boast.

It’s easy to forget, but McConnell, despite his power and incumbency, was the first incumbent to launch television ads in the 2014 cycle, and he did so 20 months before Election Day.

Even McConnell’s argument against Grimes starts off on a stale note: he thinks he’s running against President Obama. The pushback from Kentucky Democrats seems obvious: McConnell has been in Washington so long, and is so far detached from Kentucky, his mindset doesn’t allow him to look beyond the Beltway.

As for Grimes, Kos added that she has little to lose and a lot to gain: since she’s not up for re-election until 2015, the Democrat “doesn’t have to give up her current job to challenge McConnell.”

Nate Silver published an analysis of the race, showing McConnell as the favorite, but adding that the incumbent “is unlikely to sail to victory,” in part because Grimes is a credible opponent, and in part because “Mr. McConnell is fairly unpopular in Kentucky.”

Mitch McConnell, Kentucky and Alison Lundergan Grimes

A showdown is set in Kentucky