Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes will share a stage this afternoon at the Kentucky Farm Bureau forum.
It is their first joint appearance since the Fancy Farm picnic, and the setting is expected to be a far more calm and controlled. The farm bureau plans to live-stream the forum.
Still many political observers expect some fireworks. Here’s what could come up ahead of the highly anticipated forum.
It’s not a Debate
At least that’s what organizers with at farm bureau stress when promoting the event.
The forum is aimed at giving Grimes and McConnell an opportunity to share their views and solutions about current agricultural and rural policy issues.
Both candidates will be peppered with questions from the group’s board of directors, but they aren’t supposed to address one another. It is expected that, like in Kentucky’s other high-profile races in years past, the two will find ways to engage, however.
That would mark their first face-to-face direct confrontation in the race.
How often will McConnell reference President Obama? What agricultural policies will Grimes take the senator to task over? These are just some of the barbs that could come up.
An actual debate between Grimes and McConnell, hosted by KET, will take place in October.
The controversy surrounding Grimes receiving a rental discount for her campaign bus by her father’s company is an open wound for the Democrat.
It allows for questions beyond whether the campaign obtained the bus at a fair market rate or, otherwise, an illegal contribution. Rather it speaks to just how influential of a role Jerry Lundergan, Grimes’ well-connected father, plays in her world.
What role would Lundergan play if his daughter were elected to the Senate?
Grimes campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton said in a released statement the story is a McConnell “hit job” to distract voters.
“Our campaign will not be bullied by McConnell and his allies, who have received at least six letters from the FEC for campaign finance violations this cycle,” she said. “Our legal team has researched this matter, done their due diligence and these disparaging attacks are inaccurate.”
The Grimes campaign has pushed back against the story, providing documentation showing their rate was similar to a quote they received from a bus company. One Atlanta bus company told the AP their $456 a day rate was a legitimate price, but another bus rental business called it a “sweetheart deal.”
McConnell’s Attendance Record
The farm bureau forum is about rural issues—a bad timing for The Hill’s new story about McConnell’s absenteeism at Senate agriculture committee hearings.
The report said McConnell skipped some of those hearings to make talk show appearances and meet with foreign leaders.
During a March 6 meeting, for instance, McConnell dipped out on confirmation hearings for nominees on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The Hill reported that McConnell instead attended the Conservative Political Action Conference, where he famously brandished a musket as a flex on gun rights.
Josh Holmes, a McConnell campaign senior adviser, told me the article misses how Senate leaders play a larger role. He adds the senator has a major behind-the-scenes role when it comes to Kentucky farmers, but the article fuels a Democratic narrative of McConnell being detached and more concerned with personal power than local concerns.
The state Democratic Party has called on McConnell to return portions of his salary for every meeting missed and Grimes’ campaign seized on this story, putting out a web ad blasting McConnell’s absences ahead of the farm bureau forum.