Alison Lundergan Grimes is a natural politician. Mitch. Is. Not.
(Clinton, KY – March 28, 2014) – Jonathan Miller’s provocatively titled article “Is Mitch McConnell Trying to Lose?” appeared on this week on the Daily Beast website. Miller muses that McConnell “is having a Bulworth moment. Just like the suicidal disillusioned title character of the 1990s Warren Beatty feature, Kentucky’s senior senator has simply had enough of Washington…” (Link to the article under More below.)
Borrowing some language from my day job as an attorney, I admit in part and deny in part Jonathan’s premise. He does a fine job of recounting McConnell’s recent missteps. I shall not repeat them here.
I have a slightly different perspective on the upcoming senatorial election. I believe that the senior senator is flailing around and making newby mistakes. But not on purpose.
My theory of the case is that Mitch McConnell has never been at this place before. There is no template for him to follow to victory. Comparisons to his victory over Dee Huddleston (using the famous hound dog ad) just don’t hold up. Mitch is fighting a war on two fronts.
McConnell is facing the first serious primary challenger in – well – ever. While Matt Bevin has never polled higher than McConnell, he has not folded up his tent and given up either. The closest Bevin has come is being more than 25 points down.
Bevin keeps on keeping on despite polling data. He has repeatedly jumped on McConnell with press releases and public appearances grabbing attention that otherwise only the Democrat would have pointed out. In his latest attack, Bevin plans to release a TV ad showing McConnell in a Duke shirt. Ouch.
Bevin may not beat McConnell, but his voice is a critical one from the right corner of the GOP. It’s a place where McConnell could always rest. Now he has to be on alert. McConnell must defend his role as a Washington insider. How does one capitalize on thirty years experience bringing home goodies to Kentucky and appeal to conservatives who want nothing to do with D. C.?
McConnell’s attempts to look past Bevin are being stymied by the candidate who will not go away. If Bevin can get the angry conservative out to vote against the incumbent into the primary, he may have an outside chance. So far, he has not tapped the vein of the disenchanted. But it has to worry McConnell whose positives are rivaled only by his rival in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Once McConnell gets past the primary at the end of May, he has THAT WOMAN to face in November. Miller characterizes Alison Lundergan Grimes’ success as follows: “The obvious culprit for Grimes’s early success has been McConnell’s stunning unpopularity in the state.”
Nope. Sorry, Jonathan. You and other male pundits have missed the obvious.
Grimes is the most natural politician we’ve seen since Wendell Ford. And she’s definitely not one of the boys. Reporting on Grimes’ on the state level is akin to the media’s floundering around handling Hillary on the national level. The reporting has been hamhanded and embarrassingly clumsy. So there.
Grimes loves to wade into crowds. Her delight in listening to those who come to bend her ear is obvious. She grins enthusiastically whenever someone wants to take a selfie with her. Grimes comes out ahead when compared to her opponent who looks like he is a permanent sufferer from hemorrhoids.
We’ve followed Grimes’ career since she first ran for Kentucky Secretary of State. She and I sat down and talked during that first campaign. With well wishers swirling around, Grimes made me feel that what I said was the most important thing she would hear all day. Then she made the next person feel the same way.
It’s a gift and she’s got it. McConnell does not.
Grimes comes from a family that grew up on politics. Dad Jerry is a former legislator. Mom was a Kentucky Democratic Women’s Club president. Daddy and Mommy are buddies with the Clintons. Alison Lundergan Grimes is not a film star who poked her toe in the water and found it too hot.
Grimes is a real politician and McConnell is being forced to take her seriously indeed. While he does that, he cannot use sexist attacks to go after her. As Jonathan pointed out, that tactic “the empty dress” was not a winner. McConnell, if he debates Grimes, and we have some doubts about that happening, will have to take the same kid gloves approach that Joe Biden took with Sarah Palin. No talking down to the opponent. No condescension. Disagree without being disagreeable. We can’t see Mitch having that deft a touch.
We first saw Matt Bevin at (where else?) Fancy Farm. His performance reminded us then of that other beginner, Rand Paul. Bevin, like Grimes, is a natural politician. He seems to like the give and take of politics. He has not campaigned in the Purchase, so we have not seen him in person since last August. If Bevin was out and about, he would be cutting into the Senator’s lead. Lucky for the Senator, Bevin is content to trade barbs in the media.
We predicted years ago that when McConnell reached the national stage that he would falter. One does not want to lampooned on The Daily Show or have thousands of YouTube videos made about you – none of which are flattering. Mitch McConnell has always operated best in the background. He ran Republican politics in the Commonwealth for thirty years from behind the curtain. Like the Wizard of Oz, the curtain is peeled back. There is something to see and it’s not what the Senator wants to reveal.
It is inconceivable that a knife fighter like Mitch McConnell would throw a race. We will believe he is going down by his own hand when we see him keep the same advertising team (after the Duke debacle?) and the same campaign management (a Tea Party Rand Paul guy?). If he does after the May primary, then we will believe that the Senator is committing political suicide.
The lion that is Senator Mitch McConnell may be wounded, but he’s not dead yet. Until then, he is still the formidable opponent he’s been for over thirty years.
Suicidal? Not hardly.
Vulnerable? For sure.