Politics Get Pricey — and Nasty — in Kentucky

For another, the Congressional Budget Office, which came up with the $6,000 estimate, later retracted that figure, saying it was based on “incorrect assumptions.”

McConnell says he did not even vote for the plan, but that may be splitting hairs a bit thin, political analysts say. He voted on a motion to proceed to consider the Ryan plan, a motion that failed along a party-line vote. And he was quoted numerous times in 2011 saying he supported the plan.

Grimes’ campaign notes that McConnell’s own Medicare ad — which claims that Obamacare would “cut $700 billion from seniors’ Medicare” — has itself been discredited. Indeed, the figure refers to a cut in the growth of future spending over the next several years. Ironically, the Ryan plan McConnell supported included that same $700 billion cut.

Missteps

McConnell has a reputation for running finely tuned campaigns that rarely veer off course, but this year has been uncharacteristic, with the candidate and his team suffering through several gaffes and missteps.

In August of last year, his campaign manager, Jesse Benton, was caught on tape saying he was “holding my nose” managing McConnell’s campaign while gearing up to help Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) if he runs for president in 2016. Benton, best known for working with Tea Party and Libertarian-backed candidates, ran Paul’s successful 2010 Senate campaign and worked for Paul’s father, Rep. Ron Paul, during his presidential campaign two years later.

McConnell came under fire a month later for failing to denounce a GOP official’s description of Grimes as “an empty dress.”

Then in March of this year, McConnell’s campaign ran a television ad that mistakenly showed the Duke men’s basketball team instead of the University of Kentucky team. While it was a simple editing error that was quickly corrected, McConnell’s primary opponent, Tea Party-backed businessman Matt Bevin, tried to take advantage of the basketball flub and other missteps. Bevin’s campaign, though, hit a few potholes of its own, and, as Skelley says, the GOP challenger “never really got going as a candidate.” McConnell won the primary with 60 percent of the vote.

But Grimes, who won her own primary over nominal opposition, has continued to hammer away at statements McConnell has made in recent weeks, including a comment that equal pay for women amounted to “preferential treatment.” McConnell also came under scrutiny in April for an answer to a newspaper reporter’s question in rural Lee County. The reporter asked how the senator would help bring jobs to the area, to which McConnell is quoted as replying, “That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet.”

McConnell’s campaign said the comment was taken out of context and argued that the senator has helped bring thousands of jobs to Kentucky during his 30 years in the Senate.

Last week, Grimes sought to capitalize on the “not my job” quote with a television ad in the same style as the Medicare spot. The Democrat notes that under McConnell’s tenure, the state also has lost thousands of coal-mining and other jobs through the years.

Grimes’ camp also has had its share of criticism, from claims that the candidate doesn’t fare well in answering reporters’ questions on the fly, to charges that he campaign keeps her public appearances too tightly scripted. Whether those kinds of image issues hurt her in the long run is hard to say, analysts contend.

Down To The Wire

As for McConnell’s miscues, most don’t believe they’ll have a lasting effect. And, in fact, many are already predicting a sixth term for the Republican, already the longest serving senator in Kentucky history.

“We view McConnell as likely to win reelection for a few reasons,” Skelley, the U.Va. analyst said. “First, it’s the second midterm for a Democratic presidential administration, so the political environment will naturally favor Republicans to some degree. Second, we’re talking about Kentucky, a state that has become ruby red at the federal level in the age of Obama.”

Moreover, he said, it’s difficult to see a Democrat winning “in a state that Mitt Romney won 60.5 percent of the vote in,” in 2012. The senator also has experience on his side, Skelley added.

“[He] has been in some tight races before, but has won five straight elections,” he explained. “And he has amassed a massive war chest to use against Grimes.”

Indeed, he has. The McConnell campaign has raised $25 million in this cycle alone. But Grimes has been no slouch either. She raised $4 million in the second quarter of this year, breaking the old record, held by McConnell, of $2.9 million. The Democrat’s campaign has raised about $11.3 million since announcing her bid last year. The McConnell camp raised less money than Grimes did last quarter — taking in $3.1 million from April through June. But the Republican still leads in overall fundraising and cash on hand, with $9.8 million to Grimes’ $6.2 million. If both candidates continue to keep their fundraising operations in overdrive — and the parties, PACs and other outside groups spend as much as some analysts expect them to — the $100 million mark may very well be within reach.

While Skelley thinks McConnell will win in the end, he won’t be surprised to see this race come down to the wire — and with it, control of the Senate.

“It’s very possible,” he said, “that Grimes will keep the race very tight, all the way up to Election Day.”

(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)