Kentucky Democrats have lined up what they hope will be a formidable candidate to take on powerful Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in next year's campaign.
Ending months of speculation, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes announced Monday afternoon that she will enter the 2014 U.S. Senate race.
“I’m here today to tell you that I have met with my supporters, we have had a great conversation and determined and decided that we can next make the best move, the best difference in the Commonwealth of Kentucky by running for the U.S. Senate,” she said.
Speaking in Frankfort to a room of supporters and reporters, Grimes said Kentuckians are tired of McConnell and what she described as his "28 years of obstructionism." She also chided McConnell for voting against increases in the minimum wage and for "losing touch with Kentucky issues, voters, and values."
Referencing the length of time it took for her to formally declare her entrance into the Senate contest, the 34-year-old Maysville native said she wasn't willing to join the race until she had done all of her homework.
“Make no mistake, members of the media, this due diligence was not reluctance, it was not hesitancy,” she said, “but rather a deliberate gathering of all the necessary facts to make a decision that’s not to be taken lightly.”
The announcement started more than 30 minutes later than it was scheduled, and lasted less than five minutes. Grimes answered only a few questions from reporters before leaving the stage.
Grimes has been Secretary of State since 2012. Before that, she was an attorney in Lexington. Grimes comes from a well-connected political family. Her father, Jerry Lundergan, served as chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party.
Taking on McConnell
Whoever wins the Democratic Senate nomination will face an extremely well-funded and well-organized re-election campaign by Sen. McConnell. Barren County Democratic Party Chairman Bud Tarry says he believes Grimes will be able to line up financial supporters willing to invest in a campaign against the longtime Republican Senate Minority Leader.
And Tarry thinks Grimes will likely paint McConnell as being part of the Washington D.C. establishment.
“I think what she’ll be running on is that she’ll be a new voice in Washington, one that’s in touch. McConnell started out as someone who talked about bringing the pork home, and now he has suddenly said he has changed his message up there in Washington," Tarry told WKU Public Radio.
Tarry admitted he was “surprised” Grimes was entering the Senate race against McConnell, but said politics often comes down to "timing being everything."
"If this is the right time, then she made the right decision," said Tarry.
Tough Road for Kentucky Democrats in Congressional Elections
Grimes enters the 2014 Senate race after several other higher-profile Democrats took a pass on the contest. Actress Ashley Judd, Governor Steve Beshear, Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson, and Attorney General Jack Conway have all said they will not challenge McConnell.
The 2014 Democratic Senate candidate faces the task of winning a federal election in a state known for sending conservative Republicans to Washington. Kentucky Democrats will likely have to work hard to make the race about state issues—not hot-button national issues.
Of the eight members of Kentucky’s federal delegation, only one is a Democrat.
Former Bowling Green mayor and vice-chair of the Warren County Democratic Executive Committee Patsy Sloan says a candidate like Alison Lundergan Grimes will have to separate herself from the President and other national Democratic party leaders.
“I anticipate that the McConnell campaign will try to tie Alison as closely as possible to President Obama, who obviously is not very popular in Kentucky," said Sloan. "And she’ll have to deal with that.”
And as if on cue, while WKU Public Radio was interviewing Patsy Sloan, the Kentucky Republican Party sent an email to reporters declaring that Grimes has “officially decided to carry the Obama flag of Obamacare, war on coal, runaway debt, and bankrupting Medicare and Social Security in Kentucky."
The message went on to say Grimes has proven she isn't "ready for AAA let alone the major leagues."
Patsy Sloan told WKU Public Radio she thinks Grimes would make a good Democratic standard-bearer and will attract a great deal of female voters to her campaign.
“She represents the future. She’s young, and she’s part of an upcoming generation of young Democrats," said Sloan.