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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.”

Centre College drops efforts to host U.S. Senate debate

McConnellGrimes
By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

Centre College has hosted two vice presidential debates this century but could not get the U.S. Senate campaigns of Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes to agree over details for a debate between them this year on the Danville campus.

Centre College President John A. Roush said there did not appear any willingness by any campaign to come to an agreement.

Centre College’s website announced Monday that the liberal arts college has canceled efforts for a U.S. Senate debate on Sept. 3.

The decision came after weeks of planning and several conversations with the two candidates’ campaign officials following a July 17 announcement by AARP, WAVE3 News in Louisville and Centre proposing a debate on the same stage as the 2000 and 2012 vice presidential debates.

Centre originally requested that the candidates respond to the invitation by Aug.1, but college officials discussed and met with campaign representatives after that date in an effort to come to agreement over details regarding format and structure.

“My disappointment runs deep for the citizens of Kentucky, who deserve to make an informed decision on election day,” said Centre President Roush. “We had every indication early on that agreement could be reached, but as time wore on, compromise on the part of both campaigns simply didn’t occur.”

“Campaigns have differences and the stakes in any race are high,” Roush said. “However, at the end of the day, I am more inclined to believe that there was really no willingness on the part of either campaign to come to agreement.”

The final attempt to receive a “yes” or “no” took the form of an open letter by Roush on Aug. 20 to “Fellow Kentuckians,” asking for support via social media.

In his letter, Roush expressed an interest in putting “in place a format for a civilized, meaningful discussion between the candidates to learn more about them and their aspirations for serving the Commonwealth and to get past the carefully rehearsed, contrived, and sometimes mean-spirited advertising that increasingly characterizes political campaigns these days.”

While this did prompt a few last-minute conversations over the weekend with campaign officials, none were substantive enough to prevent cancellation, Roush said.

The two candidates appeared on the same stage earlier this month at the Fancy Farm picnic in Graves County and at a forum last week at the Kentucky Farm Bureau headquarters in Louisville.

Their only remaining scheduled joint appearance is Oct. 13 on the Kentucky Educational Television network.

‘Comment’ focuses on U.S. Senate race; ‘KY Tonight’ will discuss energy

The latest in the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky between Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes will be discussed on this weekend’s “Comment on Kentucky,” a public affairs show on the Kentucky Educational Television network.

Joining interim host Bill Bryant of Lexington’s WKYT-TV will be three journalists — Phillip M. Bailey of WFPL in Louisville, Amanda Van Benschoten of The Kentucky Enquirer and Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The show will air live at 8 p.m. Friday on KET.

On the Monday, Aug. 25, edition of “Kentucky Tonight” at 8 p.m. on KET and at KET.org/live, host Bill Goodman and guests will discuss energy policy.

Scheduled guests are Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council;
Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association; Sarah Lynn Cunningham, an environmental engineer and educator and director of the Louisville Climate Action Network; and Steve Gardner, president and CEO of ECSI and president-elect of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration.

Viewers with questions and comments may send e-mail to kytonight@ket.org or use the message form at KET.org/kytonight. Viewers may also submit questions on Twitter @BillKET or on KET’s Facebook page, facebook.com/KET. All messages should include first and last name and town or county. The phone number for viewer calls during the program is 1-800-494-7605.

“Kentucky Tonight” programs are available online at KET.org and are rebroadcast on KET, KET KY, and radio.

“Kentucky Tonight” is a weekly KET production, produced by Deidre Clark. Goodman is host and managing editor.

–Jack Brammer

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.”

PolitiFact: McConnell ad about violence against women ‘mostly false’

McConnellGrimesBy Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign ad that says he supported a “stronger” Violence Against Women Act than President Obama is “mostly false,” a fact-checking news agency said Wednesday.

The ad, released Aug. 5, features McConnell’s wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

“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.

A narrator then adds: “Mitch McConnell co-sponsored the original Violence Against Women Act – he’s always supported its purpose. Mitch voted for even stronger protections than Obama’s agenda will allow.”

PolitiFact, a project of the Tampa Bay Times, said the ad is mostly false.

“Perhaps McConnell could argue that the mandatory minimum sentences Republicans required in their alternative made for a ‘stronger’ bill, but advocates of domestic abuse awareness opposed this measure as unnecessary,” PolitiFact wrote. “And the Republican measure was absent several protections for certain groups that were included in the bill Obama signed. McConnell is within his right to oppose those provisions, but it makes it hard for him to prove that he supported ‘stronger’ legislation.”

PolitiFact recently gave a “half true” rating to an ad by McConnell’s Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, that said McConnell voted “two times against the Violence against Women Act.”

Politifact cited McConnell’s history of voting in favor of the law at times, but against it at others.

Libertarian plans to join U.S. Senate race

ken4ky_logo

By Jack Brammer
jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — Harrodsburg police officer David Patterson said he will file Monday to join Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race as a Libertarian.

Patterson, who will turn 43 on Aug. 9, must present at least 5,000 signatures of registered Kentucky voters by Aug. 12 to get on the statewide Nov. 4 U.S. Senate ballot with Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Ken Moellman, state chairman of the Libertarian Party, said Tuesday that a signature drive for Patterson has collected more than 9,000 signatures. He said they are reviewing each signature and already have more than 6,000 that are valid.

The Libertarian Party had planned to have a candidate in place by July 31, Moellman said, but decided not to rush the process after being told Patterson would be excluded from speaking at last weekend’s Fancy Farm picnic in Graves County.

Patterson said in a news release that he will be in the race to win and not to take votes from any particular candidate. “A vote for Patterson is for Patterson. Period,” he said.

His campaign website said he is an “aspiring author, political activist and lifelong, multi-generational Kentuckian. He is an outspoken activist for equal rights for minorities and LGBT persons, and for his strong opposition on violence against women and children.”

A native of Louisville, Patterson is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University. He and his wife, Ashley Nicole Davis Patterson, have two children.

Founded in 1973, the Libertarian Party of Kentucky promotes individual liberty through free markets and social tolerance. Its website claims about 4,500 members. More information about the party can be found at www.LPKY.org.

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.

Stumbo criticizes use of state tax incentives for Noah’s Ark theme park

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-PrestonsburgBy Jack Brammer

jbrammer@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — House Speaker Greg Stumbo said Wednesday that it’s not appropriate for the state to provide tax incentives for a Noah’s Ark theme park in Grant County.

He said he expects that the practice will be challenged in court and that the state will lose because it violates the U.S. Constitution’s mandate for separation of church and state.

Stumbo’s comments came during a wide-ranging news conference in his Capitol office, during which he also contended that Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, was “hand-picked” for the job by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and that he has decided not to make an expanded gambling bill the highest-priority measure in the 2015 General Assembly, because Churchill Downs has contributed heavily to House Republican candidates.

The Democrat from Prestonsburg predicted that Democrats will pick up at least three to five seats in the state House in November to keep control of the chamber. Democrats now have a 54-46 advantage in the House.

House Minority Leader Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown, called Stumbo’s news conference “a dog and pony show.”

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.