LEXINGTON—Former President Bill Clinton struck an economic populist chord on Wednesday in his return to the Kentucky campaign trail for Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes.
The fundraiser is the first campaign event for Grimes since her appearance alongside her opponent, incumbent Republican Mitch McConnell, at Fancy Farm this past weekend.
On Wednesday, Grimes began her speech by updating the former president on the status of the race. She said McConnell has spent millions running a nasty campaign trying to tag her with false labels.
“Let me just set the record straight. I am not an empty dress, I am not a cheerleader, and I am not a rubber stamp,” she said. “One label though I will proudly wear is that of a Clinton Democrat. I am a Clinton Democrat.”
Grimes, for the most part, stayed on message about increasing the minimum wage, providing student loan relief and pushing for equal pay for women.
Polling shows Kentuckians agree with the Grimes campaign’s focus on economic issues.
The latest Bluegrass Poll asked voters which issue was the most important facing the U.S., and 56 percent said they were most concerned about jobs and the economy.
Clinton said the McConnell campaign tactic is to distract voters from those issues.
“Creating jobs, raising incomes, and giving poor people a chance to work in the middle-class, that is the issue,” Clinton said.
“All over America and increasingly the world, creating more shared prosperity as opposed to fewer jobs and concentrated wealth at the top is the main issue people face. And we Americans have not done enough for broadly shared prosperity.”
Republicans responded to Clinton’s arrival by hammering the former president’s support of pollution controls. The state GOP, for instance, noted Clinton supported the Kyoto Protocol to reduce carbon emissions.
McConnell was an opponent of that international agreement and ultimately helped vote it down in the Senate almost 15 years ago.
Kentucky Republicans said the state’s coal industry also opposed those regulations at the time.
“When Alison Lundergan Grimes brings to Kentucky someone like Bill Clinton, a champion of anti-coal policies and a man whose name is proudly displayed on the EPA building,” said Republican spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper, “she continues to succeed at reminding Kentuckians that she’s Barack Obama’s Kentucky candidate and would surely be a vote for the anti-coal Obama agenda.”
Grimes pushed back against that narrative, proclaiming she is the true champion of the state’s coal industry.
“In 30 years Mitch McConnell has not saved one coal job or created one coal job,” she said. “And Kentuckians are asking: Who was in the U.S. Senate when thousands of coal mining jobs disappeared from the commonwealth—Mitch McConnell.”
Grimes’ camp points to an endorsement by the United Mine Workers of America earlier this month as another example of her being a pro-coal candidate.
The fundraiser in Lexington drew about 500 people and is expected to draw in about $350,000.
It is the first of a two-stop visit for Clinton in Kentucky. He is also joining Grimes in Hazard to help. Recent Grimes poll numbers lag in the eastern half of the state.