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Alison Lundergan Grimes shifts into attack mode in latest television ad

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has set aside her folksy, light-hearted television ad series “Questions for Mitch” in favor of a traditional attack ad as recent polls show her losing ground in a tight race with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“What can happen in 30 years?” asks a narrator in the ad, which was airing in Lexington on Thursday. “A senator can become a multi-millionaire in public office while voting 17 times against raising the minimum wage, three times for corporate tax breaks that send Kentucky jobs overseas and 12 times against extending unemployment benefits for laid off workers.”

The ad concludes: “And when asked about it, just laughed. Thirty years of Mitch McConnell is long enough.”

McConnell’s campaign labeled the ad an attack on the senator’s wife, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, although the ad never makes a direct reference to Chao.

Because the ad mentions McConnell’s personal wealth, the majority of which was inherited from Chao’s family, the McConnell campaign countered that it represented another attack on Chao, who has become a flash point in the campaign in recent days.

“The latest attack ad from Alison Lundergan Grimes is nothing short of despicable,” McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said. “Apparently, Grimes’ entire candidacy has been reduced to attacking Mitch McConnell’s wife at every turn in the hopes she can distract Kentuckians from her profound inexperience and steadfast commitment to the Obama agenda.”

Grimes campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton responded by noting that McConnell criticized Grimes’ father, former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan, from the stage at last year’s Fancy Farm picnic. She also pointed to supporting material for the ad that said McConnell has earned at least $4 million in government salary since 1985.

Earlier this month, Democratic strategist Kathy Groob posted on Twitter that it was “fair game” to criticize Chao’s Asian ethnicity, prompting a denouncement from the Kentucky Democratic Party. That was followed by a McConnell ad early last week that featured Chao defending her husband’s record on women’s issues. (The fact-checking news service PolitiFact rated the ad “mostly false.”) By the end of last week, a firestorm had erupted when Yahoo! News reported that Chao served on a philanthropical board that, among other things, aims to eliminate coal-fired power plants.

The bulk of McConnell’s wealth comes from a gift Chao’s father, an immigrant-turned-shipping-magnate, gave the couple and an inheritance she received after her mother died in 2007.

On Friday, the McConnell campaign noted previous fact-check articles have taken issue with Grimes’ efforts to tie McConnell’s immense wealth to his votes to raise the pay of congressional members.

In May, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker wrote that “virtually all of the increase in McConnell’s increase in net worth comes from his wife’s money, not his congressional work.”

The accusation that McConnell laughed when asked about extending unemployment benefits is a reference to a radio interview McConnell did with conservative talk show host Lars Larson in early January.

At the end of the interview, as Larson wished McConnell well, the host added that he hoped McConnell would vote against extending unemployment benefits. McConnell chuckled in response and thanked Larson for the interview.

Earlier in his exchange with Larson, which ran about eight minutes, McConnell outlined his counter-offer to Democrats, saying that “if you’re going to do an unemployment extension, we certainly ought to pay for it.”

Latest McConnell ad features Chao appealing to women

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Just days after Democrats scrambled to disavow a political consultant’s comments about the ethnicity of former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, she is starring in a new ad on behalf of her husband, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The television ad, released Tuesday morning, features Chao appealing directly to women, a demographic that Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has openly coveted since challenging McConnell.

Chao, who was Labor Secretary under former President George W. Bush, asks in the ad: “Have you ever noticed how some liberals feel entitled to speak on behalf of all women?”

“As if every woman agrees with Barack Obama,” Chao says to the camera.

The battle for women — 53 percent of the vote — in this year’s U.S. Senate race has been a nonstop and bruising affair, as Grimes and her campaign have repeatedly leveled accusations of sexism and misogyny at the state’s senior senator.

In an ad Grimes released last week, she focuses on McConnell’s votes not to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and against equal pay proposals. At the Fancy Farm picnic on Saturday, she put an explanation point on her argument. “If Mitch McConnell were a TV show, he’d be Mad Men,” she said. “Treating women unfairly, stuck in 1968 and ending this season.”

In McConnell’s response ad, Chao calls the attacks “desperate and false.”

“Alison, supporting the Obama administration isn’t pro-women,” Chao says. “It’s anti-Kentucky.”

The ad notes that McConnell co-sponsored the original Violence Against Women Act and says that he has supported even stronger protections for women “than Obama’s agenda will allow.”

The law helps fund investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes against women and requires restitution for those crimes. McConnell and most other Republicans in the Senate voted against reauthorizing the law last year, which expanded protections for gays, undocumented immigrants and Native American women who are abused.

In a statement, Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton dismissed McConnell’s latest ad as empty rhetoric.

“Simply saying, ‘I’m married to a woman’ doesn’t speak loud enough,” Norton said. “Your actions and record over 30 years in Washington indicate where and how you will stand up for women.”

Chao, who came to the U.S. in the hull of a freighter ship at age 8, is making her television debut in the general election after a Kentucky Democratic operative came under fire for posting on Twitter about Chao’s Asian heritage.

Kathy Groob, the founder of a pro-Grimes Democratic Super PAC who attended a Grimes event in Northern Kentucky with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow in February, said Saturday on Twitter that by bringing Chao into the race, her ethnicity is “fair game” to criticize.

The Kentucky Democratic Party denounced the comments, and Groob deleted them.

Grimes had a 12-point lead among women in a Bluegrass Poll in February, but the Bluegrass Poll released last week showed her lead among women down to one point.

Republicans seize on Iron Dome comment by Alison Lundergan Grimes

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Republicans took to the Internet Wednesday morning to assail Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes after she said Tuesday that Israel’s missile defense system had helped prevent terrorist attacks from Hamas’ tunnel network.

“Obviously, Israel is one of our strongest allies in the Middle East, and she has the right to defend herself,” Grimes said. “But the loss of life, especially the innocent civilians in Gaza is a tragedy. The Iron Dome has been a big reason why Israel has been able to withstand the terrorists that have tried to tunnel their way in.”

By Wednesday morning, allies of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and conservative commentators had jumped on the remark as evidence that Grimes lacks policy knowledge.

McConnell’s latest ad targets Obama, Grimes over coal

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled his latest re-election ad Friday morning, focusing his fire on President Barack Obama and Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes over coal.

The ad, titled “Different Direction,” features McConnell and a number of coal workers blasting Obama for the administration’s so-called “war on coal.”

“Mr. President, you said you wanted to change America,” McConnell says in the ad. “Well by golly, he has.”

While repeatedly assailing Obama as harmful to the state’s coal economy, the ad portrays McConnell as someone who is standing up to the president, using his seniority for leverage.

“Mitch McConnell does have the experience. You go up there with no experience, you go up there with nothing,” says Brandon Stamper, who was identified as a coal worker in the ad.

Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst responded by accusing McConnell of failing to save coal jobs for three decades.

“No matter how many ads Mitch McConnell runs, he can’t hide from the fact that he has failed to save a single coal job in his 30 years in Washington.”

In writing on the screen, McConnell’s ad claims that “Alison Lundergan Grimes supports Barack Obama’s anti-coal environmental platform.”

To support that claim, McConnell’s campaign relies on the fact that Grimes was a delegate who voted for Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and said she supported his re-election platform.

However, Grimes has made clear in recent months that she objects to actions taken by the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon-dioxide pollution from new and existing power plants.

“When I’m in the U.S. Senate, I will fiercely oppose the president’s attack on Kentucky’s coal industry because protecting our jobs will be my number one priority,” Grimes said last month after the EPA issued new pollution regulations for existing power plants.

Although many Republicans blame Obama for the coal industry’s decline in Eastern Kentucky, where half of coal jobs have disappeared since 2011, industry analysts point to a number of factors.

Environmental policies have played a role, but so have competition from low-priced natural gas and from coal from other parts of the country; the depletion of easy-to-reach reserves in Eastern Kentucky after a century of mining; and higher mining costs in the region.

McConnell’s ad will air statewide, according to the McConnell campaign.

Independent Ed Marksberry stops gathering signatures for U.S. Senate run

Ed MarksberryBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Ed Marksberry announced Wednesday that he will no longer try to get on the ballot in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate election as an independent.

Marksberry, an Owensboro contractor, said in a statement that he had collected only half of the 5,000 signatures needed to run as an independent. With the Aug. 12 deadline looming to submit the signatures, Marksberry said his health has prevented him from getting the full amount.

“I was not successful in raising the funds needed to hire others to help me collect the signatures, and there is a lesson there,” Marksberry wrote in an email.

Marksberry previously sought the Democratic nomination in the race, but withdrew last year. He accused representatives of Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign of trying to bribe him to withdraw from the race, which the campaign has denied.

Marksberry has been intensely critical of Grimes’ efforts to portray herself as conservative on issues such as coal and guns, bemoaning the absence of a true liberal in the race to unseat U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“My campaign was never about winning,” Marksberry said. “It was about the lack of a progressive voice that is needed to move Kentucky forward (so far this conservative-mindset hasn’t served the majority of Kentuckians very well).”

When asked by text message if he plans to support Grimes’ campaign, Marksberry responded: “Absolutely not.”

State fundraising records fall as Grimes bests McConnell in second-quarter dash for cash

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republican Mitch McConnell shattered Kentucky fundraising records in the second quarter, leaving both campaigns with millions to spend during a critical stretch of the state’s U.S. Senate race.

Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state, outpaced McConnell and other Democratic Senate candidates from around the country, setting a new single-quarter record by raising more than $4 million. She eclipsed McConnell’s previous record of $2.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2008 by more than $1 million.

McConnell, the U.S. Senate minority leader, posted $3.1 million for the second quarter. That brings his total for the election cycle to more than $25 million, crushing his own record of $20 million raised for his 2008 re-election bid.

Grimes has raised a total of $11.3 million since entering the race more than a year ago.

While the broken records reflect the continued national interest in who represents the Bluegrass State in the Senate, the number most important with just more than 100 days left until Election Day is how much cash each candidate has to spend at a time when more voters begin to pay attention.

To that end, McConnell continues to enjoy a significant advantage, with $9.8 million in the bank compared to Grimes’ $6.2 million.

Grimes injects retirement age into back-and-forth over Medicare

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

In a new online video ad, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes accuses Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of wanting to raise the retirement age for Medicare benefits.

The web ad comes in response to a television ad McConnell released Tuesday morning. That ad was responding to Grimes’ first negative ad against McConnell, which came out Tuesday morning.

All the ads focus on Medicare.

Grimes’ latest salvo features MSNBC’s Ed Schultz saying that McConnell’s “wish list” includes raising the retirement age for Medicare benefits. He cites a Nov. 30, 2012 article in The Wall Street Journal.

In the article, McConnell says a deal on the federal budget might be possible if lawmakers could reach bipartisan agreement on higher Medicare premiums for the wealthy, an increase in the Medicare eligibility age and slowing cost-of-living increases for Social Security.

The Grimes campaign said it is spending “thousands” to distribute the video online.

In a statement, McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore belittled the video.

“I don’t think running out MSNBC’s Ed Shultz in a web video is going to extinguish the flames on her credibility,” Moore said. “The Obama handlers have to be burning the phone lines trying to get someone in the Grimes camp to just stop and call it a week.”

The main issue in this week’s exchange of fire over Medicare has been McConnell’s support for U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2011 budget, which would have privatized Medicare for future seniors.

In her television ad, Grimes sits next to retired coal miner Don Disney as he asks McConnell why the senator voted to cut his Medicare by $6,000.

The claim was dismissed as “shaky” in a fact-check article by the Associated Press.

“McConnell cast no such vote,” the AP wrote.

McConnell did vote in favor of the Senate considering Ryan’s Medicare plan, but it would not have directly impacted Disney. Instead, the bill stated that “current Medicare benefits are preserved for those in and near retirement.”

That led McConnell to swiftly release an ad of his own Wednesday morning that took Grimes to task as President Barack Obama’s “Kentucky candidate,” saying that Grimes “repeats the same falsehoods Obama does.”

But in her new web ab, Grimes blasts McConnell for wanting to destroy the entitlement program.

The ad opens with McConnell on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” telling David Gregory that he voted for the Ryan budget. It also includes footage of The Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman, appearing on MSNBC, and Schultz explaining why Ryan’s plan would raise costs for seniors.

“The Ryan budget would have destroyed Medicare,” the ad says.

McConnell agrees to attend Kentucky Farm Bureau candidate forum

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Wednesday that he will participate in the Kentucky Farm Bureau candidate forum Aug. 20, challenging Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes to debate him there.

“Sen. McConnell never misses an opportunity to discuss the issues with Kentucky farmers,” said Allison Moore, McConnell’s spokeswoman. “He proudly accepts the invitation from the Kentucky Farm Bureau to appear at their candidate forum in August and hopes Alison Lundergan Grimes will do the same.”

It remains unclear whether Grimes will join McConnell at the forum.

“We continue to stand ready to debate and await Mitch McConnell’s long-delayed decision to accept our offer to attend the KET debate,” Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst said Wednesday. “As our debate response letter outlined, we would welcome the opportunity to debate in all corners of the commonwealth. Unfortunately, McConnell thinks he owns this Senate seat and hasn’t found the time to respond to our letter or sit down and negotiate with our campaign.”

McConnell challenged Grimes to debate the day after the May 20 primary, calling for televised Lincoln-Douglas style debates where the candidates question each other. He requested no audience and that the debates be concluded before Labor Day.

McConnell then immediately agreed to a debate proposed by WDRB-TV in Louisville. WDRB’s president has endorsed McConnell, and that debate, scheduled for late June, never happened.

Since then, the two camps have quibbled over the basics of how, where and when to debate, with Grimes saying in early June she would participate in an Oct. 13 debate on Kentucky Educational Television.

McConnell responds to Grimes’ ad on Medicare with one of his own

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

About 24 hours after Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes unveiled her first attack ad against U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the senator fired back with his own spot that rips Grimes’ ad as “shaky” and “laughable.”

McConnell’s latest television ad relies in part on an analysis of Grimes’ ad by the Associated Press, which said the spot made “shaky claims” about Medicare.

McConnell sought to use the misstep to further his strategic goal of tying Grimes to President Barack Obama, who made similar claims about Medicare in his 2012 re-election bid.

“As Barack Obama’s Kentucky candidate, Alison Grimes repeats the same falsehoods Obama does,” the narrator says.

Grimes’ ad featured her sitting beside retired coal miner Don Disney, who asked McConnell why he voted to raise his Medicare costs by $6,000.

The problems for Grimes, as the AP stated, is that “McConnell cast no such vote.”

At issue is U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2011 budget proposal, which would have privatized Medicare for future seniors. McConnell did vote in favor of the Senate considering Ryan’s Medicare plan, but it would not have directly impacted Disney. Instead, the bill stated that “current Medicare benefits are preserved for those in and near retirement.”

The Grimes camp disputed that point Tuesday afternoon, citing studies that said out-of-pocket expenses for current Medicare recipients might rise under the Paul proposal as younger, healthier recipients abandon the plan for a private option.

In its return volley, the McConnell ad also makes questionable claims.

“Grimes supports Obamacare, which cuts $700 billion from seniors’ Medicare,” the ad says before declaring that “Obama and Grimes will pay for Obamacare on the backs of Kentucky seniors.”

However, the $700 billion in Medicare cuts included in the federal Affordable Care Act do not cut benefits for seniors. Instead, the cuts come from reduced payments to providers over a 10 year period.

Those cuts were also included in Ryan’s 2011 budget plan, which McConnell supported during a procedural vote that would have allowed the bill to be debated on the Senate floor.

In addition, Grimes has refused to say whether she would have voted for or against the federal health care law had she been in the Senate at the time. Instead, she has called for fixing unspecified portions of the law and criticized McConnell for seeking to repeal it.

Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst accused the McConnell campaign of telling “egregious falsehoods” and saying “whatever it takes to deceive Kentuckians to hide his vote in support of the reckless Ryan budget that would end Medicare as we know it.”

Grimes releases first TV ad focusing on McConnell

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes released a new television ad Tuesday morning, her first criticizing U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

In a throwback to the 2012 presidential campaign, Grimes, the Democratic nominee running against McConnell, takes her opponent to task over proposed changes to Medicare that were included in U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2011 budget proposal.

The ad, “Question from Don,” features Grimes sitting next to retired coal miner Don Disney of Cloverlick.

“Senator, I’m a retired coal miner,” Disney says in the ad. “I want to know how you could’ve voted to raise my Medicare costs by six thousand dollars. How are my wife and I supposed to afford that?”

The ad refers to a procedural vote that McConnell took in 2011 in favor of considering Ryan’s budget bill, which the liberal-leaning Center on Budget Policy and Priorities estimated would increase the out-of-pocket expenses for the average Medicare recipient from about $6,000 to $12,000 by 2022. Other groups have estimated that the bill would have produced a much smaller cost increase.

The bill, which failed in the Senate, would have exempted people who were already at or near retirement age from its changes.

The Grimes campaign said it was spending “six figures” to air the ad statewide. It is the first in a series that will feature Kentuckians asking critical questions of McConnell, the campaign said in a news release.

“Unlike Mitch McConnell, Alison Lundergan Grimes is running to protect and strengthen key programs for our seniors,” the campaign said. “Alison believes in keeping our promises to our nation’s seniors while preserving these programs for our children and grandchildren.”

Republicans responded by saying that Grimes has voiced support for the federal health care law pushed by President Barack Obama, which cuts about $700 billion from Medicare over 10 years by tweaking payment formulas for health care providers.

“It says a lot about the candidacy of Alison Lundergan Grimes that she’s a full four months away from the election and she already hit the panic button by resorting to the oldest, most cynical attack in the Obama playbook to scare Kentucky seniors,” said Allison Moore, McConnell’s spokeswoman. “The simple reality is that Sen. McConnell has fought to protect Medicare, while Alison Lundergan Grimes and her political benefactors have raided it by $700 billion to pay for Obamacare.”