The PJ Tatler

Is Alison Grimes' Botched Campaign Announcement An Omen?

Last week, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes launched her campaign to unseat incumbent Republican Senator – and Senate Minority Leader – Mitch McConnell.  It was an abject disaster.  It was such a fiasco that the Washington Post couldn’t ignore it.  Aaron Blake was kind in describing Grimes’ campaign announcement as “underwhelming” on July 2.

  1. At her press conference, Grimes was flanked by a banner for her 2011 secretary of state campaign rather than a new banner for her Senate campaign. 
  2. Grimes’s announcement was not promoted on her Twitter account, her Facebook page or really by anyone other than her top adviser, who told the Associated Press about the 3 p.m. announcement on Monday morning.
  3. As of Tuesday [July 2] afternoon, Grimes still had no campaign Web site, though and appear to have been snapped up by someone. That means that anybody who was excited by her launch and wants to contribute money to her campaign has no outlet to do so.
  4. Grimes showed up more than half an hour late for her press conference, after gathering with advisers and supporters to inform them of her decision.
  5. According to Ryan Alessi, a terrific reporter in Kentucky, people in the room at Grimes’s announcement described it as “unorthodox,” “unprecedented,” “fascinating” and even “surreal.” Grimes didn’t tell even her closest advisers about her decision until she made it.
  6. She appeared at her press conference for less than five minutes, offering a brief statement and responding to just two questions.

Even before Grimes made her decision, one prominent Democratic consultant grumbled to The Fix that it was a rollout unworthy of a major political campaign

Yeah, starting off your U.S. Senate bid with a 2011 banner that could be a possible violation of federal campaign finance laws isn’t good. Granted, we’re a little less than 500 days away from Election Day 2014, but Blake noted that Grimes’ win as Kentucky’s Secretary of State in 2011 isn’t all that impressive.  In fact, it’s no where near the kind of big league wins that garner serious attention.  Nevertheless, there’s the Clinton factor.  Bill Clinton had been pressuring her to run since last spring before Ashley Judd’s chances were torpedoed.  If Bill is serious about her chances, then Grimes has a major ally in the Clinton machine – and its access to cash.  On the other hand, McConnell doesn’t go easy on his opponents and has a sizable war chest for his 2014 campaign.  This possibly explains why ten other people decided to sit this one out.

Stuart Rothenberg at Roll Call posted on July 8 his ruling on the Kentucky Senate race.  While Rothenberg noted Grimes’ lack of political baggage, youth, and McConnell’s relatively unstable approval numbers, he also mentioned:

Kentucky was Obama’s seventh-worst state in 2012 (and ninth-worst in 2008). He drew just 38.5 percent of the vote, down 3 points from his 2008 showing. That gives McConnell fertile political soil in which to work.


Though I have not yet met Grimes and I don’t know how the contest will unfold, I have to rate the race now. It certainly is neither Safe for McConnell nor a Toss-Up. Rating the race now as either Leaning Republican or Republican Favored (Likely Republican, in some ratings) seems reasonable to me.

For me, the burden is on the candidate who must overcome a strong partisan bent against his or her party in a contest for federal office. Massachusetts Republican Gabriel Gomez and Hawaii’s Lingle couldn’t, but Heitkamp did. Obama’s weakness in Kentucky during a midterm election and Grimes’ inexperience suggests that she will have a very tough job beating the incumbent, though I expect the race to be close.

Until I see evidence — and I will be looking for it — that swing voters and an overwhelming percentage of moderates are willing to not only fire McConnell but also send another Democrat to the Senate in spite of the state’s dissatisfaction with Obama, this race looks like Republican Favored for now.

Additionally, Grimes nominated Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. She’ll will have to answer questions about her stance on Obamacare and the president’s war on coal, which has been characterized as a “regional genocide” by local communities.  Grimes is navigating through a minefield, while McConnell just needs to convince his supporters amongst other things – that he’ll continue to say no to the Obama agenda.  Perfection is a characteristic that needs to be pegged with the Grimes campaign, but that epic failure of a campaign announcement wasn’t indicative of such a trait.  She’s off to a rocky start.