Discord over a pair of campaign ads in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race has brought a rural area in Eastern Kentucky to the political spotlight and put Republican Mitch McConnell’s team on the defensive.
Fact-checkers have shredded commercials released by McConnell and his Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, which attack each other over who Medicare costs.
Observers have described both candidates’ claims as “skewed,” “false” and “misleading” to score political points with voters, but one fact-check came down to a question of Eastern Kentucky geography.
In the initial Grimes ad, she appeared alongside retired coal miner Don Disney. Grimes said Disney was from “Cloverlick” in Harlan County, but a Louisville TV station reported Wednesday night it was unable to find a town with that name.
Maps of the area do show a Cloverlick Creek and a local coal company with the same name.
Cumberland Mayor Carolyn Elliott told WFPL Thursday she knows Disney, and that like many locals he was referring to a subdivision in the city limits.
“This gentleman actually lives in the Cloverlick section of Cumberland,” she said.
“There actually is a Cloverlick. I know it doesn’t sound feasible, but you got to remember we live in the mountains.”
Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst said the GOP criticisms are another example of McConnell being out of touch with average Kentuckians.
“Rather than venture to Eastern Kentucky to propose solutions for the hardworking men and women hurting in the region, Mitch McConnell and his overpaid D.C. consultants would evidently prefer to lob uninformed assaults against the people he was elected to represent three decades ago,” he said.
The McConnell campaign has not responded to WFPL’s request for comment.
Medicare Fact-check Bites Grimes and McConnell
The battle over the existence of a small town in Eastern Kentucky was just part of Grimes and McConnell’s week-long debate on how the U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2011 budget plan and the president’s health care law affect Medicare costs.
As the Grimes ad cited, McConnell voted to proceed on the 2011 version of the Ryan budget. Some analysts said the plan would’ve raised out-of-pocket Medicare costs for seniors by as much as $6,000.
Fact-checkers blasted Grimes’ attack ad as outdated and false for featuring Disney, a 75-year-old retiree, when the original GOP budget exempted seniors near or in retirement.
Democrats defend Disney’s inclusion in the Grimes ad, saying Americans older than 55 or who were current Medicare recipients would have been affected if the 2011 version of the Ryan budget had passed. Other independent fact-checkers have slammed the Grimes campaign for using the $6,000 figure, which is based on information the Congressional Budget Office retracted in a report last September.
McConnell’s campaign has countered their opponent’s ad by saying Grimes favors the Affordable Care Act, which takes out $700 billion in Medicare funding.
“She supports Obamacare implementation but amazingly tries to accept no responsibility for how it’s paid for, which comes directly out of the Medicare program,” McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said in a release Thursday.
“Supporting left-wing policies that have disastrous effects, while taking no responsibility for the problems they cause, is exactly what Kentuckians have come to expect from Barack Obama and his acolytes like Alison Lundergan Grimes.”
The McConnell claim about cuts to Medicare has also been roundly criticized by fact-checkers as wildly inaccurate. In the campaign’s own release they cite a Washington Post report that said as much.
The rest of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicare cuts are a lot smaller. Reductions to Medicare’s Disproportionate Share Payments — extra funds doled out the hospitals that see more uninsured patients — account for 5 percent in savings. Lower payments to home health providers make up another 8.8 percent. About a dozen cuts of this magnitude make up the green section above.
It’s worth noting that there’s one area these cuts don’t touch: Medicare benefits. The Affordable Care Act rolls back payment rates for hospitals and insurers. It does not, however, change the basket of benefits that patients have access to.
McConnell’s campaign has tried to distance itself from his 2011 procedural vote on the Ryan budget resolution since the first Grimes ad was released.
Even with fact-checkers picking apart the Democratic nominee’s claims, McConnell’s team doesn’t want to be associated with the Ryan budget in the midst of a tight re-election.
A McConnell adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly said it was “unfair to speculate if (McConnell) would have voted for final passage” without debating any amendments.
Three years ago, however, McConnell was a supporter of needed Medicare reforms under the Ryan plan, which sought to raise the eligibility age and partly privatizing the entitlement program.
“I voted for the Ryan budget this week,” McConnell told NBC’s Meet The Press in a May 2011 interview.
In another May 2011 interview with Fox News, McConnell said the Ryan plan was “a very sensible way to go to try to save Medicare.”