Kentucky’s lone Democrat on Capitol Hill is urging U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes to open up more with voters going into next year.
Thus far, the Grimes campaign has focused on incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell’s low approval ratings and want the election to be largely a referendum on his leadership.
Polling shows the race is a statistical tie in the early stages as Grimes seeks to tie the dysfunction of Washington to McConnell.
In an interview with WFPL’s Jonathan Bastian, airing later this week, Congressman John Yarmuth says Grimes has time to fully think through those positions, but she has to eventually present Kentuckians with an alternative.
“And it’s a point that I’ve made to her as well, that at some point not being Mitch McConnell is not going to be enough,” he says. “The people of Kentucky want to know what drives you, why you want to be in the United States Senate, why you want to represent them and what you want to do as a senator. So I think she absolutely has that obligation to tell the voters that.”
The blunt advice for Grimes comes at a time when Yarmuth is emerging as a key voice for national Democrats, and being recognized as an architect of their messaging in the House.
Initially, Yarmuth and Grimes had a distant relationship given the congressman’s vocal backing of actress Ashley Judd to jump in the race. At one point, Yarmuth said Grimes must “immediately decide” if she was going to challenge McConnell or not while Grimes said she wouldn’t be “bullied” into running.
Now the two speak almost weekly about the contest, with Yarmuth playing dual roles as an advisor and attack dog. The congressman says he considers Grimes a thoughtful candidate who has come out aggressively on some issues, such as legislation to increase the minimum wage.
But going into 2014, a chorus of critics are pressing Grimes to be more specific.
State Republicans launched an initiative called “Ask Alison” saying Grimes needs to clarify her positions on the president’s health care law, coal regulations and other issues.
Political columnist Al Cross poked fun at Grimes, saying she needs a “used pair of running shoes, to sprint from reporters who want to ask questions about issues. They’re used because we want them to wear out soon.”
The McConnell camp has begun tagging Grimes’s reluctance to talk specifics as a sign of inexperience. She is a candidate whose only previous race was for secretary of state. The increased scrutiny by opponents and the press in the 2014 Senate contest dwarfs the statewide race Grimes won beforehand.
Advisers close to Grimes stress this reflects a candidate more interested in listening to voters more than talking to reporters. She has spent much of her time in the state holding roundtables with Kentucky farmers, coal miners and small business owners.
In the coming weeks, Grimes advisers tell WFPL she will begin to roll out specific policy positions and key campaign initiatives aimed at constituencies in regions of the state.
“Alison is always willing to stand up and to give her positions, but look, she is for putting Kentucky first and that means listening to the ideas and values from people across the commonwealth,” says a senior consultant on the Grimes campaign, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “She is definitely looking into her positions, researching and wanting to understand both sides. Alison is a brilliant attorney and anyone who underestimates that she will be a strong and passionate senator who will stand up for Kentuckians is mistaken.”
Yarmuth says more of Grimes’s views and philosophy will come through in due time, but he admits that as a relative newcomer to national issues she is still finding her footing as a candidate.
“I think you’re going to see more and more out of her, but you have to understand she has been in a role where none of these federal issues are things she’s had to deal with. So it’s going to take her awhile to get up to snuff and to actually figure out where she stands,” says Yarmuth. “These are all really complicated issues and you can take a knee-jerk position whether it’s partisan or poll-driven. But to thoughtfully deal with these I think it’s better for her to wait.”