Alison Lundergan Grimes’ effort to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s closely watched Senate race collapsed, to borrow from Hemingway, gradually, then suddenly.
Grimes, a member of a powerful Kentucky political family, had seemed well positioned to challenge McConnell, whose job approval rating in Kentucky is miserable, with 37 percent approving and 54 percent disapproving of his performance.
Despite showing early promise, Grimes suffered from both a challenger’s financial deficit and a series of self-inflicted blunders, including her refusal just last week to say whether or not she had voted for Barack Obama for president.
After months of watching her chances to unseat McConnell sink, Grimes saw them plummet on Tuesday. In a one-two punch, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced that it would no longer spend money on advertising in the contest, and prominent liberal advocacy group Moveon.org castigated Grimes for an online advertisement in which she tried to portray herself as more conservative than McConnell on the issue of illegal immigration.
While three weeks remain in the contest, and anything can happen, the number of things that could save Grimes’ candidacy at this point is vanishingly small.
Related: Grimes Counts on Clinton Magic for a Kentucky Win
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
McConnell is a creature of the Senate if ever there has been one. He first came to Congress as a Senate intern in 1964, and would work for two Kentucky Republican senators before taking a position in the Ford administration’s Justice Department. McConnell returned to Kentucky in the 1970s and was elected Jefferson County Judge and Executive in 1977 and 1981. He ran for Senate in 1984, defeating a two-term Democratic incumbent, and has been there ever since. As Minority Leader, McConnell stands to take over leadership of the chamber, assuming a Republican victory.
Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky Secretary of State (D)
Grimes, an attorney who has served a single term as Kentucky’s Secretary of State, is running as much on her family name as on her own political experience. The daughter of former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan, she began the race with more name recognition and party support than any other 35-year-old political neophyte could hope to summon. A series of missteps, and McConnell’s substantial financial advantage, have kept her trailing in the race.
One of the main policy issues in the campaign has been climate change — not because either candidate is a dedicated environmentalist, but rather because of the Kentucky economy’s dependence on coal. The issue has highlighted the problems facing a Democrat running for statewide office in coal country. Even acknowledging the scientific consensus on man-made global warming — which McConnell has steadfastly refused to do — invites criticism for being “anti-coal,” which is one of the largest contributors to global warming.
Related: 9 Senate Races That Will Change the Balance of Power
McConnell has repeatedly used advertisements and speeches to highlight Grimes’ belief that global warming is real and man-made, and to equate that to an anti-coal stance. Grimes has had the much more difficult task of articulating a nuanced position that recognizes the reality of global warming while promising to limit the impact on the coal industry of any regulatory changes.
Another key issue, as demonstrated this week, has been immigration reform. Grimes has come under attack from groups supporting McConnell, accusing her of favoring “amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Her attempt to fight back by trying to get to the right of McConnell on the issue resulted in Tuesday’s decision by key Democratic constituencies to distance themselves from her campaign.
McConnell always had the financing advantage over Grimes, having raised $23.7 million by the end of June compared to her $11.4 million, but his advantage didn’t end there. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, eight of the top ten outside groups contributing to the campaign that had an identifiable partisan tilt were conservative.
The McConnell-supporting Kentuckians for Strong Leadership PAC, likely looking to deliver the deathblow to the Grimes campaign on the same day that the DSCC pulled its money from the race, announced an additional infusion of $2.2 million into the race.
Related: Democrats See a Glimmer of Hope in New Senate Polls
|Polling - Kentucky Senate Race|
|Poll||Date||McConnell (R)||Grimes (D)|
|RCP Average||9/8 - 10/7||45.5||42.5||McConnell + 3|
|FOX News*||10/4 - 10/7||45||41||McConnell + 4|
|Courier-Journal/SurveyUSA*||9/29 - 10/2||44||46||Grimes + 2|
|CBS News/NYT/YouGov*||9/20 - 10/1||47||41||McConnell + 6|
|Reuters/Ipsos||9/8 - 9/12||46||42||McConnell + 4|
|Source: Real Clear Politics|
While many of the Senate races have a legitimate wildcard that might tip the balance in an unexpected direction, it’s difficult to find one in the Kentucky contest. Given the bad news surrounding the Grimes campaign in the last few days, it appears that McConnell is drifting into the status once trumpeted by former Louisiana Governor (and convicted felon) Edwin Edwards, who said, “the only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.”
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