Kentucky Republicans are launching a new initiative to force Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes to be more forthright on the campaign trail.
“Ask Alison” will feature a series of questions by the state GOP delivered weekly in an effort to get the first-term secretary of state to clarify her positions on the president’s health care law and environmental regulations, among other issues.
For weeks the Grimes campaign has slammed Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell for blocking legislation and failing to deliver on measures such as the farm bill.
It’s part of a larger strategy to make the 2014 race a referendum on the unpopular incumbent, but Grimes is facing increasing pressure to explain her views to the Kentucky press and voters outside of orchestrated campaign events and brief media stakeouts.
“It’s just not good enough to run a campaign by press release and dodge the questions that reporters have for her and dodge the questions Kentuckians have for her,” says Kentucky GOP Chair Steve Robertson.
On issues such as Senate Democrats using the ‘nuclear option’ to breakthrough GOP blockades of President Obama’s nominees or controversial practices by the National Security Agency domestically, Grimes is guarded in her language.
When it came to the possibility of the U.S. entering the civil conflict in Syria earlier this year, much of what Grimes said appeared to baffle observers who needed further clarifications.
University of Louisville political science professor Dewey Clayton says a challenger in such an important race has to be more precise.
“Secretary Grimes does have a responsibility to the people of Kentucky to let them know where she stands specifically, if she’s got any experience and if she is a quick read,” he says. “At some point she’s going to need to let the citizens know where she stands on various issues. They have a right to know that and this is a very important position.”
It’s on safe political territory and in front of Democratic crowds where Grimes is the most confident. Campaign aides point out she also supports immigration reform, closing the gender wage gap and measures to hire veterans.
Among the list of questions Republicans are using ‘Ask Alison’ to highlight are about the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky. The enrollment is being credited as a model of success by Gov. Steve Beshear, Congressman John Yarmuth and national Democrats, but Grimes has said little about those gains.
The GOP site asks point blank why Grimes isn’t joining the governor in praising KyNect’s early success.
When confronted about the rising number of Kentuckians who are signing up for health care plans and if she intends to embrace Obamacare as fellow Democrats appear to be, Grimes campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton bypassed the state exchange and repeated previous remarks.
“As Alison has said for months, there are parts of the Affordable Care Act that need to be fixed. She has called for an extension of the grand-fathering period to allow the people of Kentucky to keep their current plans, as well as an extension of the enrollment period and mandate delay for all Americans until the federal website is fixed,” says Norton.
In some cases Grimes’s attacks are more fully developed than her own views.
Earlier in December, for instance, the Grimes camp assailed McConnell for failing to deliver a farm bill for Kentucky’s agriculture community. The online ad was an effective jab until Grimes was asked by reporters to outline where she stands on two different plans in Congress regarding food stamp funding in the measure.
Ultimately, she declined to comment citing lawmaker’s “ongoing negotiations.”
“You can’t as a serious candidate for a U.S. Senate seat launch an attack on your opponent on an issue that you yourself are not willing to stakeout a position on,” says Robertson.
An inescapable feature of the race is McConnell’s low approval numbers, and the Senate contest has already featured more attack ads and campaign gaffes than policy debates.
But Clayton says voters know less about Grimes than a nearly 30-year incumbent such as McConnell, and he adds the public will demand more specifics from the Grimes campaign in the coming months.
“She can’t have it both ways and it looks at this point like she wants it both ways,” says Clayton.”When you’re non-committal it’s hard to be attacked. But when you attack someone else and criticize their stance you need to offer an alternative. So at some point it’s going to end up being damaging to her because voters want to know her stance on various issues and she can’t stonewall forever.”