Slugfest in Kentucky as pricey race for McConnell’s seat kicks off

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Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, candidate for U.S. Senate, waits to speak during the 133rd Annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky.,...
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, candidate for U.S. Senate, waits to speak during the 133rd Annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky.,...
Stephen Lance Dennee/AP

The Kentucky Senate race may be 15 months away, but Mitch McConnell’s two top opponents took an early opportunity to paint the GOP leader as part of the problem in dysfunctional Washington.

At Saturday’s 133rd Fancy Farm picnic, a political tradition in the Bluegrass State, the Senate minority leader came face to face in a contest rife with political mudslinging at his first appearance with both his primary and likely general election opponents. The Kentucky contest is already on pace to be the most expensive– and nastiest– Senate race in the country.

With a swell of his supporters chanting and waving signs, McConnell ignored his primary opponent, businessman Matt Bevin, and framed his race with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes as a choice between a choice between himself and a vote for President Obama’s agenda.

The GOP incumbent poked first as the highest ranking federal official, never mentioned Kentucky’s current secretary of state by name, instead opening his speech by saying he was glad her father, former state Democratic party chairman Jerry Lundergan, was getting back into the political game.

“It’s nice to see he’s taking orders from the Obama campaign on how to run his daughter’s campaign,” said McConnell, and slammed his opponent’s father for donating to embattled New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner.

The minority leader said he was proud of his position in the Senate that’s made him Democrats’ top offensive target next year.

“Kentucky’s voice is often the voice of opposition to the Obama agenda and I’m proud of that, said McConnell. “That’s why every liberal in America is out to beat us next year.”

“All these liberals that came down here to push me around, they’ve not going to get away with it,” the Republican jabbed.

McConnell repeatedly framed Kentucky’s choice next year as one that would determine control of Senate, saying his Democratic opponent would be another vote for Obama and for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

“We’re deciding who’s going to run the Senate,” said McConnell. “A Nevada yes man from Barack Obama who believes coal makes you sick, or the other guy you’re looking at.”

But in her speech, Grimes didn’t shy from attacking McConnell directly, painting him as an obstructionist who’s been in Washington too long, as her own supporters chanted, “Ditch Mitch.”

“If the doctors told Sen. McConnell that he had a kidney stone, he’d refuse to pass it,” Grimes said, in her most memorable zinger of her six-minute speech.

While McConnell left after his likely Democratic opponents’ speech, not staying to hear his GOP primary opponent at the end of the program, Grimes welcomed Bevin to the race, joking that he was glad to see the “GOP nominee had shown up.”

Grimes, whose internal poll released this week showed her narrowly ahead of the state’s senior senator, said McConnell had been successful in one thing in his nearly three decades in the Senate – uniting Republicans and Democrats against him, as the incumbent struggles with sagging approval ratings.

“There is a disease of dysfunction in Washington, D.C. And after 30 years, Sen. McConnell is at the center of it,” said Grimes. “He has left Kentucky and its citizens behind. As long as he says in D.C., D.C. will stand for dysfunctional capital.”

Echoing her campaign kickoff, Grimes promised she “doesn’t scare easy,” while she said McConnell only “views public service as a carnival game of whack-a-mole.”

Bevin and Grimes’ Democratic opponent Ed Marksberry spoke at the end of the program, and McConnell’s GOP opponent focused his speech, too, against McConnell, joking that there would be plenty of time to attack Grimes at next year’s Fancy Farm.

Bevin’s supporters rang bells as he spoke, and the Louisville businessman made part of his wealth from his company’s New England bell foundry, which manufactures the bells used by the Salvation Arm bell ringers during the holiday season.

“If you haven’t scurried away yet, ask not for whom the bell tolls, senator, they toll for you. They toll for you because the people of Kentucky have had enough,” said the Republican, hitting the absent McConnell for failing to block the Senate’s immigration bill he called “amnesty” and for voting for Wall Street bailouts.

Bevin called on McConnell to “stand with” conservative senators, including Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, who say they’ll block any continuing resolution to fund the government unless it includes a defunding of the president’s health care law.

“I don’t intent to run to the right of Mitch McConnell, I don’t intend to run to the left of Mitch McConnell - I intend to run straight over the top of Mitch McConnell and right into the U.S. Senate.”

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Slugfest in Kentucky as pricey race for McConnell's seat kicks off

Updated