Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 14, 2016

Rating Alison Lundergan Grimes’ Chances in Kentucky

McConnell has a challenger for re-election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

McConnell has a challenger for re-election. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Does the candidacy of Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, change McConnell’s re-election prospects? The answer depends on whether you think she will be 2014’s version of Linda Lingle or Heidi Heitkamp.

Lingle, a former two-term Republican governor of Hawaii, was unable to overcome her partisan label in a state that President Barack Obama won with more than 70 percent of the vote. While Lingle ran almost 10 points ahead of Mitt Romney in the Aloha State, she got buried in her bid for the Senate in 2012.

On the other hand, Heitkamp, a Democrat and former North Dakota attorney general, ran almost 12 points ahead of Obama in the Peace Garden State, enabling her to squeeze out a very narrow Senate victory.

Grimes, 34, was elected as Kentucky’s secretary of state in 2011 with more than 60 percent of the vote in her first bid for public office. Before that, she was an attorney in Lexington. She is an attractive and articulate young woman who comes from a very politically active family.

Her father, Jerry Lundergan, is a former state Democratic Party chairman and friend of President Bill Clinton (Lundergan’s catering business catered Chelsea Clinton’s wedding). Her mother is the current Democratic National Committeewoman from the Bluegrass State.

One Democratic group, The Atlas Project, asserted that Grimes is a “formidable candidate” and a “rising star” in her party. But her single electoral success in a downballot contest during a year when the popular incumbent Democratic governor easily won re-election doesn’t prove either assessment.

Democrats hope that Grimes’ lack of a legislative record, combined with McConnell’s mediocre poll numbers, will allow her to pull an upset over McConnell, 71, who was first elected to the Senate almost 30 years ago, in 1984.

McConnell won by almost 30 points in 2002 and by more than a dozen points in 1996. But he was re-elected in 1990 by just 4 points, and he won his last race, in 2008, by only 6 points.

Public polling shows McConnell doesn’t begin his bid for re-election with a reservoir of good will. An early April survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found him leading Grimes by only 4 points, 45 percent to 41 percent, and a late May PPP survey found the two candidates tied at 45 percent. Most polls, however, suggest the GOP senator holds a single-digit lead over Grimes.

Multiple polls show more state voters disapprove of McConnell’s job performance than approve, and Democrats say that more Kentucky voters now say that they want to replace McConnell than to re-elect him, a far different situation from polling conducted in 2002 and 2008, the last two times the Kentucky Republican faced voters.

McConnell does not start off his bid for a fifth term in a strong position, but our ratings are not based primarily on the current situation. Nor do they seek to classify races in terms of their eventual margin of victory. Instead, ratings constitute our assessment of where a race is most likely to end up on Election Day.

McConnell’s longevity (and age) could be a liability for him, as could his position of leadership in an unpopular institution. Two Democratic Senate leaders, South Dakota’s Tom Daschle and Nevada’s Harry Reid, faced the same problem. Daschle lost re-election, while Reid survived.

But Daschle faced a much stronger challenger — now-Sen. John Thune — than McConnell is facing, and South Dakota’s partisanship certainly was a disadvantage for Daschle. Reid faced a weak challenger in a very competitive state. Kentucky’s strong conservative, anti-Obama bent is much more favorable for McConnell.

Grimes is a stronger challenger to McConnell than actress Ashley Judd would have been. Judd has plenty of obvious political baggage while Grimes has relatively little.

“It’s going to be hard for McConnell to run his typical type of campaign: attack the stuffing out of his opponent,” one Republican acknowledged to me recently.

But while Grimes can run against Congress, present herself as a force for compromise, portray McConnell as yesterday’s news and pick apart his record as she delivers a call for change, the Republican incumbent will not be silent. He will try to make the Kentucky Senate race a referendum on Obama, much as Republican candidates succeeded in doing across the country in 2010, the last midterm balloting.

Midterm dynamics are different from presidential years, when voters have multiple votes — one for president and one for the Senate. In a midterm, a vote in a U.S. Senate or House race is also the only opportunity for a voter to send a message about the president and his performance.

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.

Grimes surely will want to keep the focus on McConnell, but the Democrat was part of Kentucky’s delegation to the 2012 Democratic National Convention that nominated Obama, and she will be forced to take positions on or answer questions about Obama’s health care law and the president’s position on coal and energy. Given the likelihood that national Democratic and liberal groups will rally behind Grimes, the race is likely to take on larger implications, which actually benefits McConnell.

If you are looking for very recent examples of this, consider both the Massachusetts Senate special election and the special election in South Carolina’s 1st District, where Mark Sanford, who began with stupendous negatives, defeated a Democratic opponent in a reliably Republican district. In both cases, partisanship appears to have been a crucial factor in voters’ decisions. That is where federal races differ from state contests.

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.

  • HenryC


  • chrismalllory

    Choosing between Grimes and McConnell is like choosing between cancer and AIDS. Grimes is a big government loving progressive from Lexington and McConnell is a RINO from DC.

    • Jackson

      spoken like an ignorant and vulgar buffoon who has never been touched by either disease. you should be ashamed of your post!
      Just remember “there but for the Grace of God…”

      • VirginiaConservative

        met·a·phor/ˈmɛtəˌfɔr, -fər/ Show Spelled [met-uh-fawr, -fer]
        a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in “A mighty fortress is our God.” Compare mixed metaphor, simile ( def 1 ) .

        • Lea Tapp

          That doesn’t make the comment any less offensive or ableist. The comment could have read, “The lesser of two evils” without invoking real diseases real people live with and suffer from as a petty insult.
          To double down on that Chrismallory had to make a “big government” comment, showing that he believes that poverty should be fatal. Do you know how much AZT costs without government assistance? How about treatment for cancer? What happens when you are too sick to work, can’t afford treatment and there is no social safety net?
          The comment was callus from stem to stern and I think Jackson is correct. Chris would feel differently if the shoe was on the other foot, which it could be at any time. I’ve never known a Libertarian or Republican to turn away aid when it was their turn to need it.

          • VirginiaConservative

            Once again, you have missed the point.

            Subject: Re: New comment posted on Rating Alison Lundergan Grimes’ Chances in Kentucky

    • Lea Tapp

      A progressive, eh? If she is, she has my vote. Where can I sign up to campaign for her? As for the GOP being for less government, that’s a hoot! They want to control who we marry and support forced birth by denying women’s bodily autonomy. They support state mandated rape for any woman seeking to end a pregnancy. That’s not less government intrusion, it’s more.

      They want less government regulation for corporations and more for people’s private lives. They want tax cuts for the rich while cutting programs that give vital aid to the ill, elderly and impoverished. Maybe you’d like to see people starving and dying of treatable illnesses on the street, but I don’t.

      They don’t want comprehensive sex ed in school that could save lives and lead to fewer abortions.

      They don’t support fair pay for women. They are anti-union, anti-environment, anti-science, anti-voter protection laws and the sexism, homophobia, scientific illiteracy, dishonesty and racism rampant in their party is shameful.

      I’m not a fan of the Democratic party at this time, but if it’s between choosing a progressive Democrat or McConnell, she has my support.

  • SamSmart

    The most important factor in this election – taking control of the Senate from Harry Reid and the Democrats. We need 51 Republicans – to repeal Obamacare, stop IRS targeting of conservatives, killing the coal industry, the Benghzazi slaughter cover-up, NSA spying on us, the Dept of Justice spying on journalists, and on and on. Support Republicans!

    • William Saenz

      Being upset with Democrats and choosing to vote instead for Republicans like McConnell is like saying “these guys can’t cure cancer, so I’m gonna vote for cancer instead.”

      • Icob

        This makes absolutely no sense. You’re trying to say McConnell is worse than Reid? What have you been watching for the last 6 years? Harry Reid is the devil him self.

        • William Saenz

          You mean McConnell, the guy who consistently supported Iraqi troop surges, was caught using tax dollars to organize his campaign (a federal crime), consistently attacks a woman’s right to choose, opposes same sex marriage, repeatedly votes against funding public education, and has approved nearly every step of the Patriot Act, including the wiretaps?

          Harry Reid certainly isn’t a saint, but you seem to have a skewered view of who’s the Devil, here…

          • Patrick Daniel Flynn

            Shallow identity politics. Every issue you mentioned. When you start to defend the constitution over your menu of pet causes then people will take you seriously. McConnell and Reid love partisans like you no matter red or blue.

          • William Saenz

            I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that the Patriot act had nothing to do with the Constitution whatsoever.

            Seriously? That’s your argument? With your willingness to overlook incredibly relevant issues, what exactly applies as “defending the constitution” to you?

            Obama and Reid also have supported the Patriot Act. I know, I’m ‘partisan’ like that.

          • Patrick Daniel Flynn

            I’m with you on the patriot act but the way you framed the rest of your points was nothing if not partisan and I’ll explain why.

            The DOMA and gay marriage in general is a red herring. The discussion regarding government sanctioning the most intimate of personal relationships is abhorrent on so many levels. The federal involvement regarding sexual orientation and marriage should be NIL, it should be relationship neutral and that means taking hetero marriage from its elevated position and simply be an arbiter of contract law between consenting adults. Anything else is overreach regardless of your personal persuasion.

            Voting against funding public education? How about in my local district where they spend over ten thousand per student for horrid results? In the same district the parochial schools outperform the public schools by such a margin that there is no comparison and do it on less than half the dime. Your condemnation against someone for voting against funding public education is both shallow and partisan. It infers that lack of funding is a reason for their failure when the reality is so vastly different from leftist fantasy that it is obscene.

            “The right to choose” is a euphemism on the left. It used to be said that no one was “pro abortion” but the dancing on the graves that has gone on in this late term abortion filibuster in Texas by “pro-choice” supporters has been disgusting. I’m for freedom and consider myself pro choice but I don’t disparage anyone who disagrees with me and I certainly don’t celebrate abortion.

            So like I said, the positions that you chose to stand on with one notable exception are a part of the shallow and destructive identity politics that allow the political elite to control the masses. They are vacuous and reveal your political core.

          • VirginiaConservative


          • William Saenz

            That is a very long winded response from you, so this won’t be any better.

            I think you’re mistaking my opinion for an alleged partisan position. There’s a difference between personal views and following lockstep with a party and approving of their decisions, for better or worse.

            I don’t see how you can throw gay marriage under the bus as little more than a “red herring.” I would see your point if the issue wasn’t affecting thousands of couples across the nation, but the fact of the matter is that social conservatives (who have little regard for the constitution and personal freedom) have created a system that inherently works against gay couples. Repealing DOMA was a wonderful step against that, and unlike Libertarians, I am in favor of couples having certain rights and privileges under marriage, such as visitation rights. Without those, couples have no protection against certain issues, such as a company refusing to provide health care for one’s spouse because they’re gay, or not being able to visit their loved one in a hospital. While no government involvement is better than what we see in many discriminatory states, when put up against real life scenarios, that argument simply doesn’t hold up.

            As the son of a public school teacher, I find the argument that “we fund our schools too much” to be hilarious. While there are certainly more factors at play, such as faulty leadership and domestic issues for the students, the greatest issue facing American public schools is lack of funding, period. Most public schools, beyond federal dollars, are funded by property taxes. This causes serious issues for impoverished locations that have to survive almost completely on federal funding. Studies show that public education is frequently cut disproportionately compared to other government programs when re-budgeting occurs. When people like McConnell refuse to support school programs like he’s done many times before, he’s hurting the entire community as well as the students. Sure, it’s more than just money, but to state that the need for proper funding is part of a “leftist fantasy” is incredibly ignorant of reality on your part.

            The late-term abortion issue you speak of is only one facet of the abortion bill that Senator Davis was fillibustering–it had much graver consequences, such as potentially shutting down most abortion clinics in the state. This is happening everywhere from Texas, Ohio, to my home state in North Carolina where Republicans tacked on an anti-choice bill at the last minute that would shut down all but one abortion clinic in the entire state. As a friend of someone who underwent an abortion after being raped, the only thing I find “disgusting” here is the fact that conservative politicians believe themselves entitled to be the ones making the decision for her, not the victim herself.

            The notion that one “celebrates” an abortion is idiotic. You keep saying how I’m showing partisanship, yet you’re making all the points that a social conservative would make in an argument. The reason so many people are ‘pro-choice’ is because these radical anti-abortion bills won’t stop them from occuring. It’s been practiced for thousands of years, except that now with it legal, it is a very safe procedure, as opposed to back when the woman’s life was oftentimes genuinely at risk. It’s in the best interest of everyone that they’re kept safe and regulated in order to prevent grave injuries or even death to the woman. Call it a euphemism of the left, but they’re certainly more in touch on the matter than the radical right. (note: I don’t mean everyone on the right. Even tea-party governor Pat McCrory has shown his support for a woman’s right to choose.)

            This argument you’re making that I’m working as part of some system is hilarious, as if Libertarian opinions are somehow infallable. I’m with you on personal liberties and whatnot, but I’m surprised you chose to lash out in such a way when I made many libertarian points, such as bringing the troops home, how the Patriot Act is wrong, and how social conservatives like McConnell are living in an archaic utopia of ignorance. Since when has being against war and supporting personal choices been a catalyst to controlling the masses? I’d argue that you in fact are doing this by going after myself instead of the perpetrators of such injustices.

        • hepette

          watching repukes destroy usa and its citizens…..mcconnell is an old pasty white pos who has no clue as to what americans want

    • veridia

      Republicans are social darwinists that want to eliminate food stamps and let people starve to death. If I want to live in a country where people starve to death because of poor governance I’ll move to North Korea (lots of people starving there). As it stands, I want to keep America as it is.

      • DaveLCAC

        HMMM, keep it as it is? You mean persitent unemployment at almost 8%, record numbers on food stamps, health care about to collapse under the Obummercare, 11 million new immigrants on the free gifts from government lists, schools collapsing from poor performance, gas at historical high cost…you keep it, I want better than Dummycrats and Obummer.

        • hepette

          potus doesnt set gas prices stupid. health care is not going to collapse and is the LAW OF THE LAND. PRIVATIZING SCHOOLS====TAKING MONEY AWAY FROM PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO PAY FOR RICH PEOPLES KIDS SCHOOLS. NO JOBS FROM REPUKES IN 8 yrs!!!!!!!! food stamps go to elderly vets and kids……what a complete fool you are

      • Patrick Daniel Flynn

        You’re a statist pig who wants to enslave individuals to pay for public largess. See how easy that is? Hailarity ensues when you suggest North Korea is the seat of bad government when it is the end result of your espoused worldview.

    • EdinNJ

      I get it, your screen name is ironic.

    • hepette

      you are too silly……….none of the things you mentioned are the fault of dems and obama…….too stupid to search for the facts arent you? we are going to get rid of you dumb repukes slowly but surely…… obviously havent learned a thing from the last two elections!!!!

      • VirginiaConservative

        Are you trying to say that it was Republicans using the IRS to spy on conservative groups. The NSA is spying on US Citizens because of the Republican? 0bama isn’t tryinf to shut down the Coal Industry?
        You are delusional.
        When does 0bama start taking responsibility for the action sof his administration?

      • daniel155

        You are being a little hard on Sam there. I will just cover the coal question. The Obama Administration has not been a friend of coal and EPA regulations are making it more expensive and harder to use coal. Mitt Romney hardly appeals to the average West Virginian but he won the state easily. Coal is the major industry in the state. Connect the dots.

  • sosueme001

    The only challenge to “McConnell’s re-election prospects” can come from a Tea Party primary candidate….

    • aeduran

      If it ever should come to that, which it won’t.

  • Icob

    Using PPP polling as the basis for an article shows the lack of effort on behalf of the writer…typical MSM – find a poll that supports the narrative. Yawn…Kentucky isn’t putting a left winger in the Senate – especially in an off presidential election year.

    • NICKinNOVA

      PPP was the most accurate pollster of the 2012 election. Yes, this is a fact. Go look it up.

      So, citing the most accurate pollster of the last election makes one suspect in your mind?

  • aeduran

    Grimes has a much chance in Kentucky as O.J. has of finding Nicole’s “real” killer.

    • nemcrna

      Good analogy. Kentucky is redder than red

  • Patrick Daniel Flynn

    The only way she would win was if she was a libertarian or libertarian leaning, non establishment republican like Rand Paul. Kentucky for all of its issues at the state level has figured out the DC game and was the first to throw off establishment shackles when they rejected Trey Greyson for Rand Paul. McConnel could lose but he would lose to a champion of the constitution. Democrats are the worst of the evils right now.

    • hepette

      lmao…….repukes shouldnt even get a paycheck period. they only know how to obstruct …….

      • nemcrna

        And thank God for that . They need to keep doing what they have been doing. I would be happy if they ramped up the obstruction on steroids. Keep the black Muslim commie from ruining the country any more than he already has

  • Faulkner’s Ghost

    Kentucky is an armpit.

    • nemcrna

      How do you know this ?

    • Robert Campbell

      Speaking as a life-long Kentuckian that has voted against McConnell 5 times, I find your remark both ignorant and offensive. BTW, I plan to make it #6 in 11/2014.

  • floridawasp

    What could McConnell do with another six years in the Senate that he has not done in the past 30 years?

  • Charles Kirtley

    There is little difference between the candidates, so who cares which wins?

  • nemcrna

    McConnell needs to be primaried by a Tea Party candidate. Lacking that, I don’t think Kentucky will elect a democrat .

  • daniel155

    Even if the Democratic candidate for the House or the Senate in your state talks a conservative game they will soon be initiated into the national Democratic Party views if elected or be ostracized. They will only be able to vote conservative in symbolic votes or when the issue is already decided. Note the “conservative” Democrats that got a pass from Nancy Pelosi to vote against Obamacare because she already had enough votes to pass it.. Bottom line is that you are still voting for a Democrat or a Republican and their respective policies.

    • wolfndeer

      Sounds like projection. When was the last time you heard anything comparable to the cries of RINO or threats of primary challengers on the Democratic side? There are plenty of conservative/moderate Democrats in office and they proudly wear that on their sleeve. What you’re saying is largely nonsense.

      • daniel155

        Democrats are more power driven and actually recruit candidates that can win in red states and they are better at coalescing behind their candidate than Republicans are. But that does not mean that those candidates, if elected, have much impact on changing the policies of the national Democratic Party. Those “so-called’ moderate and conservative Democrats did little to stop Obamacare other than just offer symbolic opposition.

        If you are liberal: vote Democratic
        If you are conservative: vote Republican.

        You will usually be disappointed by the “pretenders” on both sides.

        • wolfndeer

          Doesn’t matter. You’re trying to claim that both sides do this and they’re equivalents and that is obvious nonsense. Democrats don’t get run out of their party for voting with conservatives. They don’t get smeared as traitors or DINOs for reaching across the aisle.

          • daniel155

            So you don’t realize that you are much more likely to get a real conservative if you vote for a Republican instead of a Democrat?

            You are arguing with yourself on all the RINO and DINO stuff because I never brought it up.

            Have fun.

          • wolfndeer

            I’m not arguing with myself — I’m arguing that what you’re saying is nonsense and I’m using examples to prove it. Sorry that that confuses you so much.

          • daniel155

            You did not answer my question so I will rephrase it and ask again.

            Do you think you are more likely to get an authentic conservative if you vote for a Republican or a Democrat?

          • wolfndeer

            Nope. You can’t play that game with me. That wasn’t your initial claim that I’m contesting.

            “they will soon be initiated into the national Democratic Party views if elected or be ostracized. ”

            That was the claim and it’s factually untrue.

          • daniel155

            Sorry, I cannot reply to you because the moderator will not accept my response. Heck, it is their website so they can do what they want.

            Have a great day anyway.

          • daniel155

            What the heck, I will try again.

            My original post was a buyer beware warning to conservative voters in red states about Democratic candidates in their states that sound conservative. It was my opinion that they depict themselves that way to win and that in the off chance that they are actually conservative they will only be frustrated by the policies of the national Democrat Party. Republicans are more about ideology and Democrats are more about taking power and will adapt to win elections.

            You may call that nonsense but that is how party politics works. I hope this clears things up.

          • daniel155

            This is funny. I think my original post was bleeped because I used the phrase “(three letter word for breast beginning with a t) for tat”

            Signing off here.

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