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Mitch McConnell raises $2.4 million, Matt Bevin raises $1.1 million in first quarter of 2014

Matt Bevin, left, is challenging incumbent Mitch McConnell in the battle to be the GOP's nominee in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race.By Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had his best fundraising quarter of this election cycle, pulling in $2.4 million in the first fundraising quarter of 2014.

But McConnell is also spending heavily. His campaign will report $10.4 million in cash on hand, which is down more than $500,000 from the cash position McConnell started the year with.

The McConnell campaign stressed that the spending is not in response to a primary challenge from Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, noting that the majority of expenditures are for the fall campaign.

An ad McConnell’s campaign ran earlier this year featuring Paducah cancer survivor Robert Pierce ran statewide at a cost of more than $840,000.

“Team Mitch has invested early in ground-game infrastructure that will help deliver unprecedented voter contact in Kentucky,” the campaign said in a statement to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Additionally, last quarter, Team Mitch made their first major television expenditure with an ad that media guru Frank Luntz recently called the best of the cycle.”

Last pro-McConnell ad of $1.8 million buy focuses on coal, Obama

By Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition (KOC), a nonprofit group running ads promoting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is focusing the last ad of a $1.8 million buy on coal and President Barack Obama.

The group has already run two ads — one on veterans’ issues and one on the estate tax — as part of the three-week campaign.

Because the KOC is a 501(c)4 nonprofit, it is only permitted to run issue-oriented ads that do not advocate voting for or against a particular candidate.

The last ad to run begins with footage of Obama saying “so if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them.”

The narrator says the president’s energy policies are “crushing our communities, threatening our way of life.”

McConnell, the ad says, is “fighting back to save Kentucky jobs.” It boasts of legislation the senator has proposed, the Saving Coal Jobs Act, saying the proposal “would make it tougher for Obama to block new coal mines so we can save good Kentucky jobs.”

Grimes ‘disappointed’ by ethics panel’s decision to forgo punishment of former lawmaker

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Likely Democratic Senate nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes said Wednesday she was disappointed that former state Rep. John Arnold, D-Sturgis, won’t be punished by a state ethics panel for his alleged sexual harassment of three legislative aides.

After refusing Tuesday night to take questions about Arnold from reporters for the Herald-Leader and cn|2 Pure Politics, Grimes released a statement Wednesday that said she is glad Arnold resigned last September.

The Legislative Ethics Commission fell one vote short of punishing Arnold Tuesday. The deciding vote was cast by Elmer George, who has contributed $5,200 to Grimes’ campaign and was appointed to the commission in January by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who has played a major role at several campaign events for Grimes.

“As I have always said, I will never tolerate discrimination or workplace harassment,” Grimes said in her statement. “Though I am disappointed in yesterday’s decision, I am glad that the representative resigned. Protecting women from violence and harassment is personal to me. As secretary of state, I led the effort to shield domestic-violence victims, and my support for Kentucky women is unmatched in this race. I am the only candidate for U.S. Senate who supports the Violence Against Women Act, equal pay for equal work, and raising the minimum wage.”

When the Arnold scandal erupted last summer, the only statewide elected Democrat to call for his resignation was state Auditor Adam Edelen.

Grimes declines to take questions about Frankfort sexual harassment case

Alison Lundergan Grimes
By Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Likely Democratic Senate nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes told about 150 Fayette County Democrats Tuesday night that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has “yesterday’s view of women.” Then she declined to answer questions about a former Democratic lawmaker accused of sexual harassment.

After her speech, Grimes worked the crowd at the downtown Hilton and left, refusing to speak with reporters about a decision made hours earlier by the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission to not punish former state Rep. John Arnold of Sturgis. Three legislative aides have accused Arnold of sexual harassment, saying that he touched them inappropriately.

The deciding vote against punishing Arnold was cast by Elmer George, who has contributed $5,200 to Grimes’ campaign and was appointed to the commission late last year by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who has played a major role at several campaign events for Grimes.

Grimes’s spokeswoman, Charly Norton, said the candidate had to “get home,” which is less than a mile from where the dinner was held. The candidate, who added a line about freedom of the press to her standard stump speech Tuesday night, refused to acknowledge reporters who walked out of the hotel with her.

Earlier in the day, Grimes joined national Democrats in pushing for passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act on what Democrats termed Equal Pay Day.

Meanwhile, the Legislative Ethics Commission voted 4-1 to punish Arnold for allegedly abusing his position as a public official, but five votes are needed to approve an action by the nine-member commission. George voted no, saying he did not think the commission had the authority to punish someone who was no longer a member of the General Assembly. Three other commission members were absent, and one seat is vacant.

Two of the alleged victims, Cassaundra Cooper and Yolanda Costner, said the commission’s decision appeared political.

Humane Society’s political arm calls for Matt Bevin to withdraw from Senate race

Flanked by his wife and 9 children, Matt Bevin announced he will run against Mitch McConnell for U.S.Senate on Wednesday July 23, 2013 in Frankfort, Ky. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff By Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

The lobbying arm of the Humane Society of the U.S. and two other animal-protection groups called Thursday for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin to withdraw from the race, citing his attendance this weekend at a pro-cockfighting rally.

“Matt Bevin showed appalling judgment in associating himself with this band of lawbreakers and perpetrators of unspeakable animal cruelty,” Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, wrote Thursday in a blog post. “He’s brought discredit upon the state of Kentucky, and he should withdraw from the Senate race.”

Bevin, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, told The News Journal in Corbin that he didn’t know he was addressing a pro-cockfighting rally last Saturday when about 700 people gathered at the event that was organized by Michael Devereaux, director of the Gamefowl Defense Network.

Bevin told The News Journal that he thought the event was a rally for states’ rights. “I was the first person to speak and then I left,” he told the newspaper.

However, organizers told the paper there was “never any ambiguity” about the purpose of the event, which was to rally support for changing laws that outlaw cockfighting.

In his blog post, Markarian said “it’s hard to imagine anyone accidentally stumbling into a cockfighting meet-up.”

“Bevin’s claims about not knowing ring hollow, as he is now parroting the language of anyone who defends animal cruelty but masks their true intent by speaking of ‘states’ rights’,” he wrote.

Ads for the event, which Markarian included in his blog post, are labeled in large type as a “call to action” for “cockfighters.”

A message to Bevin spokeswoman Rachel Semmel seeking comment was not returned Thursday. On Wednesday, Semmel said “Matt doesn’t believe this is a federal issue, and the state government can handle it.”

Groups that support cockfighting were furious when McConnell voted in favor of the federal farm bill in February because it included a provision that criminalized being a spectator at animal fights.

Supporters of the controversial practice, in which two roosters often fight to the death, have said they want the sport to be legalized and regulated by the state.

McConnell allies start second ad of $1.8 million series

By Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition (KOC), a non-profit organization that bought $1.8 million in advertising in late March to tout Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, will focus its second ad on the estate tax.

Because KOC is a 501(c)4 and not a super PAC, it can only run issues ads. The first ad in the massive buy focused on McConnell’s efforts on behalf of veterans, and the second, which will begin running this week, highlights McConnell’s work to end the estate tax, or “death tax.”

As part of the New Years Eve deal of 2012 to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” McConnell won concessions from Democrats on the tax to prevent an increase and a permanent exemption for inheritances below $5 million.

The new ad features Bourbon County farmer John Mahan, who credits McConnell for helping to keep family farms in the family and speaks against the tax in general.

“The death tax makes it harder for us to hand our farm onto our kids,” Mahan says in the ad. “Mitch McConnell’s been fighting to end the death tax, to help us keep our Kentucky family farms.”

Bevin to highlight McConnell’s UK-Duke mix-up in ad during Kentucky-Louisville game

bevin-screengrabBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

With most of the eyeballs in the Bluegrass State glued to their televisions Friday night for the match-up between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals, Mitch McConnell’s allies and enemies are looking to leave voters with a different kind of March Madness memory.

Matt Bevin, the Louisville businessman struggling to gain traction in his bid to oust McConnell in the May 20 Republican primary, is determined to make McConnell’s Duke debacle earlier this week something that sticks with the Senate minority leader well beyond the NCAA basketball tournament.

Bevin is running a basketball-themed spot in Louisville and Lexington poking fun at the embarrassment that befell the McConnell campaign when it released a web video that included brief footage of a team in blue and white celebrating a national championship. The problem, as reported across the nation, was that those players were Duke University Blue Devils, a reviled team in the commonwealth.

After compounding the misstep by replacing the footage with an image of Kentucky standout Julius Randle — that move prompted a cease-and-decist letter from the University of Kentucky — the McConnell campaign pulled the ad.

“March Madness in Kentucky. Commitment. Courage. You gotta love it,” Bevin says before turning to a cutout of McConnell wearing a Duke jersey. “Even if your team is already out of the tournament.”

The cutout is wearing Number 32, which Christian Laettner wore for Duke when he spat on the hopes and dreams of Kentucky fans with his last second shot against the Wildcats in the 1992 NCAA tournament.

The Bevin campaign’s response is similar to that of likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes, both of whom argue that the video fiasco proves McConnell is “out of touch.”

In response, the McConnell camp pointed to troubles that have allowed the campaign to question Bevin’s credibility, like the inaccurate suggestion by Bevin on a social media page that he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or his varied explanations for signing a letter in 2008 that praised the Troubled Assets Relief Program, more commonly known as a bank bailout.

“Given Bailout Bevin’s undying commitment to a fictional account of himself and Sen. McConnell, we actually expected this ad to be about the time he won a national championship back in the 80s as a point guard for the MIT Engineers,” Allison Moore, McConnell’s spokeswoman, said. “Matt Bailout Bevin is not who he says he is, and he’s certainly not a Kentucky conservative.”

Meanwhile, two groups supportive of McConnell are planning to run ads during the game in the Lexington, Louisville, Bowling Green and Paducah markets.

The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, is running an issues ad that boasts of McConnell’s efforts to help troops and veterans. The ad is part of a $1.8 million ad campaign the Herald-Leader first reported last week.

Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a pro-McConnell super PAC, is running an ad attacking Grimes’ credibility and painting her as an ally of President Barack Obama.

The ad, “Burned,” features Obama saying “if you like your private insurance plan, you can keep your plan,” before shifting to clips of a burning house that were used in a web ad by Grimes last October called “Fire.”

Grimes’s ad featured a burning house and cast blame on McConnell for last fall’s 16-day federal government shutdown. It mocked the senator’s efforts to win credit for helping to end the Washington stand-off.

“Mitch McConnell can’t light the house on fire, then claim credit for putting it out, especially while it’s still burning,” the Grimes’ video said.

The “Fire” ad was widely praised by pundits and Grimes allies, but fact-checkers said it was either inaccurate or misleading. The Washington Post’s fact-checking column, called The Fact Checker, gave it three out of four “Pinnochios.”

The latest pro-McConnell ad points to The Fact Checker’s ruling, using its arguments to poke holes in Grimes’s credibility.

“When liberals don’t tell the truth, Kentucky gets burned,” the ad says.

McConnell team ‘horrified’ after Duke basketball footage included in ad

McConnellDuke2
By Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

Big Blue Nation called a flagrant foul on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Tuesday.

Days before the Kentucky Wildcats play the Louisville Cardinals in the NCAA basketball tournament, McConnell released an online video that showed brief footage of the Duke Blue Devils winning the national championship in 2010.

The faux pas was first ­noticed by Joe Sonka, the news editor for LEO Weekly in Louisville, and it spread quickly among University of Kentucky fans, who have no trouble distinguishing the shades of blue worn by Kentucky and Duke.

The ad, titled “Rebuild,” includes a number of scenes of Kentucky at its best as audio plays from a speech McConnell gave to a conservative group earlier this year.

“We will debate our ideas openly. We will vote without fear. And we will govern with the understanding that the future of this country depends on our success,” McConnell says in the ad. “We will work to restore opportunity and economic mobility for the middle class. We’ll renew our promise to the next generation of Americans that their future is defined by the person they can become rather than the conditions they’re born into. And if we win the majority in November, I will work every day to change that. This is our time to get it right.”

As McConnell concludes, a picture of two Duke players hugging in celebration is among several images that flash on the screen.

Allison Moore, McConnell’s spokeswoman, blamed the mistake on a vendor.

“Obviously we were horrified by the error and quickly changed it,” she said.

The replacement video, however, created new problems for McConnell’s campaign.

Political Paddock: It’s March Madness for Bluegrass politics, too

Sam YoungmanBy Sam Youngman
Herald-Leader Political Writer

March Madness isn’t just for college basketball. This week’s Political Paddock column gets in on the action with a would-be Cinderella story, some trash talk and a few Nate Silver predictions.

First, the Cinderella story.

Republican Matt Bevin desperately wants to upset Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in May’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate, but it’s hard to be a Cinderella if the top seed won’t show up to play the underdog.

Bevin has accepted invitations to four debates or candidate forums, and last week started doing a “Clubber Lang” (Mr. T) impression from Rocky III, stepping up his criticism of McConnell for avoiding debates.

“McConnell’s unable to defend his record, and he knows it,” Bevin said. “I think he’s afraid to be seen on stage with me for a variety of reasons. There’s a stark difference from a number of perspectives when people both see and hear the two of us articulate why we’re in this race and why it matters.”

If we learned anything from the 2012 Republican presidential nomination battle, it’s that 20 debates is too many. But in a democracy, zero is too few.

Grimes’ jobs plan lacks price tag, estimate of jobs it would create

McConnellGrimesBy Sam Youngman
syoungman@herald-leader.com

HOPKINSVILLE — In the two months since likely Democratic Senate nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes unveiled her job-creation plan, the candidate has held events across the state to promote the 24-page document, including one Wednesday night in Western Kentucky.

It has received endorsements from Grimes’ allies, including former President Bill Clinton, who waved a copy of the plan around as he spoke at a fundraiser in Louisville last month. And almost every day since Grimes released the plan in Prestonsburg, her campaign has sent out a press release reminding reporters that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has not presented a jobs plan of his own.

Although Grimes has repeatedly touted the specificity and length of her plan, she could not in an interview with the Herald-Leader Wednesday night quantify how many jobs she thought it would produce, how much it might cost and how she would pay for it.

Instead, she called the plan’s potential “limitless.”

“Well at the end of the day, if we follow the plan, it is unlimited the possibilities that are out there for uplift throughout Kentucky regardless of the area of the state,” Grimes said. “If done properly, there’s no one single bullet that is going to solve all of our economic woes, but this is about doing the right thing over a sufficient period of time.”