Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes made her bid official on Monday, with the Democrat announcing she’ll challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2014.
Grimes, the youngest female secretary of state in the country, enters the race after actress Ashley Judd passed on a bid after a public flirtation.
For Democrats who face a daunting Senate map that puts them on the defensive, Kentucky is their best offensive opportunity. Grimes’ decision gives them a top recruit against the Republican McConnell, who faces dwindling approval ratings and a lukewarm support among conservatives.
Grimes said she made her decision to enter the race after supporters across the state urged her to jump in, and said that the nearly three months she pondered her next move was “due diligence,” not “hesitancy” on her part.
“I agree with thousands of Kentuckians that Kentucky is tired of 28 years of obstruction, that Kentucky is tired of someone who has voted against raising the minimum wage while quadrupling his own net worth,” said Grimes.
Grimes, a 34-year-old attorney who was first elected secretary of state in 2011, comes from a political family in the Bluegrass State. Her father, Jerry Lundergan, is a former chairman of the state Democratic Party and was close with former President Bill Clinton, who reportedly urged Grimes to jump into the race.
Acknowledging she begins the race at a disadvantage, Grimes said she was an underdog in her 2011 statewide campaign (after defeating an appointed Democrat for the seat in the primary) and went on to win with 60% of the vote in November.
McConnell, with an $8.6 million war chest, has already been criticizing Grimes, painting her as national Democrats’ lackey, and a pro-McConnell super PAC has already begun airing ads on his behalf.
Grimes said those ads from McConnell were “based out of fear of losing his 30-year grip on power.”
Running in a state where President Obama got only 38% of the vote, Grimes is trying to focus on McConnell and leave the president out of the equation.
“We cannot change who our president is, but we can change who represents us in Washington,” she said.
Democrats believe Grimes will be able to bring big money to the race; outside groups have already spent money to hit McConnell even without a candidate in place.
But the combative McConnell has hardly been shrinking from the fight. After Grimes’ announcement, national Republicans tied the new candidate to President Obama.
“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,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Collins said in a statement. “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.’”