RSS

RSSAuthor Archive for Accountability Editor

Jesse Benton’s full statement regarding his resignation from McConnell campaign

BentonMcConnellHere is Jesse Benton’s full statement to the Herald-Leader regarding his resignation as campaign manager for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

There is no more important cause for both Kentucky, my new home I have come to love, and our country than electing Mitch McConnell Majority Leader of the United States Senate. I believe this deep in my bones, and I would never allow anything or anyone to get in the way.

That includes myself.

Recently, there have been inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors about me and my role in past campaigns that are politically motivated, unfair and, most importantly, untrue. I hope those who know me recognize that I strive to be a man of integrity.

The press accounts and rumors are particularly hurtful because they are false.

However, what is most troubling to me is that they risk unfairly undermining and becoming a distraction to this reelection campaign.

Working for Mitch McConnell is one of the great honors of my life. He is a friend, a mentor and a great man this commonwealth desperately needs. I cannot, and will not, allow any possibility that my circumstances will effect the voters’ ability to hear his message and assess his record. This election is far too important and the stakes way too high.

With a heavy heart, I offered Sen. McConnell my resignation this afternoon and he reluctantly accepted. Effective Saturday, August 30th, I will no longer be the “Team Mitch” campaign manager.

The good news is that most of my work has been done. We have built a top flight team of incredible people that are working tirelessly to ensure Mitch’s re-election. They are a finely oiled machine and will not skip a beat without me.

This decision breaks my heart, but I know it is the right thing for Mitch, for Kentucky and for the country.

James 16:33
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Country ham, redeye gravy and political speculation

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James ComerBy Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

LOUISVILLE – Political talk spiced up the 51st annual Kentucky Farm Bureau Country Ham Breakfast early Thursday morning at the Kentucky State Fair.

Dozens of politicians gave as many media interviews as possible and circulated among the 1,600 early risers to feast on country ham, redeye gravy, scrambled eggs, grits, hot biscuits and political speculation.

Republican candidates for governor

State Agriculture Commissioner James Comer said he has chosen his running mate in next May’s Republican primary election for governor, but would not announce his choice until he officially declares his candidacy at a Sept. 9 news conference in his hometown of Tompkinsville.

Widespread speculation has focused on state Sen. Christian McDaniel of Kenton County.

Comer repeated his belief that a millionaire Republican from Jefferson County – a reference to Louisville businessman Hal Heiner – will not be the next governor of Kentucky.

He said he is “strong” in the state’s largest city, noting that state Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, is supporting him.

“After Sept. 9, you are going to see a steady stream of key endorsements from Republicans leaders in Jefferson County,” Comer said.

Heiner, who announced his candidacy in March, dismissed Comer’s prediction.

“What I am hearing is that the Democratic candidate (Attorney General Jack Conway) is from Jefferson County and that the Republican nominee had better be able to hold it close in Jefferson County,” said Heiner, a former Louisville mayoral candidate. “I know from my past involvement in Jefferson County, I’m the candidate who could do that.”

Heiner said he is traveling “full-time” across the state, visiting 60 counties in the last five months.

Heiner said he will be a governor who will create jobs, protect the state’s “best natural resource – coal,” and be as transparent as possible.

Conway, the only other announced candidate for governor, did not attend the breakfast. He was in Washington for a news conference with five other state attorneys general and U.S. Department of Justice officials to announce a $16.65 billion settlement with Bank of America Corp. to resolve federal and state claims about mortgage-backed securities.

2016 race for U.S. Senate

Two prominent Democrats have been mentioned as possible candidates for the U.S. Senate in 2016.

That’s when the seat now held by Republican Rand Paul of Bowling Green is up for election. Paul is considering a possible run for the U.S. presidency in that year that could take him out of the U.S. Senate race.

State Auditor Adam Edelen of Lexington said before Thursday’s breakfast that “Rand Paul is in the business of running for two jobs at once. I’m not. I’m looking forward to being a candidate for state auditor (in 2015).”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said, “I’m hearing a lot of people tell me that’s a good idea for me to do. But what I’m telling them is that I am awfully happy being mayor of Louisville and we have a lot of work left to do.”

For the health of it

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, who arrived early at the breakfast, said he was prepared for all the political talk that accompanies one of the state’s premier political events.

“I had to take two Pepto-Bismol this morning so I wouldn’t get sick over breakfast hearing (U.S. Sen.) Mitch McConnell and Jamie Comer brag about themselves about all the things they have done,” Stumbo said.

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.