Local Columnists

Dave Helling: Democrat faces an uphill struggle to turn the Bluegrass State blue

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, is facing Democrat Alison Grimes for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat. The state could serve as a bellwether, with many keeping an eye on the close race as Election Day nears.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, is facing Democrat Alison Grimes for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat. The state could serve as a bellwether, with many keeping an eye on the close race as Election Day nears. The Associated Press

The votes are in: Kentucky!

We recently asked you to suggest a race to study before Election Day. You picked GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign against Alison Grimes in the Bluegrass State.

McConnell, the Senate minority leader, has held a small but consistent polling lead for months and is now considered the favorite (although the newest poll shows him with just a 1 percentage point lead).

Here are some lessons from Kentucky:

1. Incumbency counts. Twenty-eight Senate incumbents are running for re-election this year. Of those, only five seem in serious danger.

Four of those endangered incumbents are Democrats. The sole Republican is Pat Roberts of Kansas.

Incumbents typically raise more money, are better known, have a campaign structure in place and boast the experience to thrive in a brutal campaign. Challengers must overcome all of those obstacles.

It can be done, but it’s very difficult. Ask Grimes.

2. Money, much of it secret, is as important as ever. Outside groups have spent more than $29.5 million on the Senate race in Kentucky. Through mid-October, more than 69,000 political ads aired on Kentucky TV, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

It isn’t just Kentucky. Outside groups have spent $159 million this year on just three Senate races: Iowa, Colorado and North Carolina. Kansas, at $8.5 million, pales in comparison — despite having the closest race in the nation.

3. Barack Obama is a campaign issue. That shouldn’t be a surprise. George W. Bush hurt the GOP in 2006.

But Democrats in tough states may make the problem worse by ducking the Obama connection. Grimes has so far refused to say whether she voted for him.

Yet not answering that question answers it. Better to embrace at least some of the Obama record: Half a million Kentuckians signed up for health insurance through that state’s exchange, and many would lose coverage if the Affordable Care Act were repealed.

4. Senate control remains in doubt, although Republican odds are improving. Kentucky is a bellwether: If McConnell loses, the GOP will have a long night.

Roberts’ race now seems less important. Republicans are doing so well in other states that they could control the upper chamber in a number of ways even if the incumbent loses to Greg Orman.

With less than two weeks to go, that possibility remains on the table.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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