Speaking before a group of supporters, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes didn’t waste time going after Republican Mitch McConnell’s tenure.
Grimes, a 34-year-old Lexington attorney, made the announcement Monday afternoon that she is seeking the party’s nomination.
A first-term secretary of state who coasted to victory two years ago, Grimes is the daughter of Jerry Lundergan, a former Kentucky Democratic Party Chair, who is a close friend of former President Bill Clinton. She was praised by political observers in 2011 for running a positive campaign ad featuring her grandmothers.
For months, Republicans have mocked Democrats in their search for a top-tier candidate. Many party officials and elected representatives have been outspoken in urging Grimes to run against the GOP leader in next year’s election.
Long before Grimes announced, however, the McConnell campaign, GOP groups and conservative super PAC’s were pummeling her in online and TV ads. And McConnell also has raised approximately $13 million for his re-election thus far, which gives him a fundraising edge.
Grimes says she is used to being an underdog, but is confident voters won’t buy into McConnell’s notoriously vicious and effective attack ads.
“His ads are based out of fear of losing his 30 year grip on power. And this Kentucky woman does not believe that the voters of Kentucky will be fooled that easily,” she says.
Those ads have tried to connect Grimes to the agenda of President Obama, who remains very unpopular in the state. The president lost Kentucky to by 23 percentage points last fall.
A commercial launched by the Republican-leaning super PAC, Kentuckians for Strong Leadership for instance said Grimes would be a “rubber stamp” for the administration. National Republicans have been reminding voters about the president’s health care law and environmental positions, questioning Grimes’s positions.
In a statement, McConnell says he looks forward to a vigorous race but that Grimes jumping in the contest is a sign she accepted President Obama’s call to run.
“Accepting the invitation from countless Washington liberals to become President Obama’s Kentucky candidate was a courageous decision by Alison Lundergan Grimes and I look forward to a respectful exchange of ideas,” he says. “The next sixteen months will provide a great opportunity for Kentuckians to contrast a liberal agenda that promotes a war on coal families and government rationed health care with someone who works everyday to protect Kentuckians from those bad ideas.”
Asked about the health care law specifically, Grimes sidestepped the question and in many ways Obama’s unpopularity by highlighting McConnell’s own disapproval ratings and criticisms as an obstructionist.
“Regardless of the vote that is issued in this race, we cannot change who our president is,” says Grimes. “But we can change who we have in Washington representing Kentucky.”
Earlier this year, poll numbers showed Grimes tied with McConnell, and many considered her the tougher opponent when compared to earlier prospects, such as actress Ashley Judd.
National Democrats have been courting Grimes heavily and hope to exploit McConnell’s noted unpopularity in the state in what could be one of the more closely watched races in the country.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee followed Grimes’s announcement by blasting McConnell as a “relic of the past” saying that he represents everything wrong with Congress.
Grimes will have to win the Democratic primary where at least three declared candidates—Owensboro contractor Ed Marksberry, Louisville music promoter Bennie J. Smith and University of Louisville profess Craig Letichy—have announced their bid.