Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is trailing incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the highly competitive Kentucky U.S. Senate race, is claiming in a new television ad that her support for the Gang of Eight “immigration reform” legislation, which McConnell voted against, is “not amnesty.” And she’s relying on the words of Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to drive that point home in the commercial.
Grimes herself is not heard in the commercial, which features only the voices of a narrator, McCain, and Graham.
“2013 will be the year, I hope, that we pass bi-partisan immigration reform,” says Graham.
The unusual tactic of highlighting the words of prominent “pro-amnesty” Republican Senators, however, could well backfire. The ad, which aligns Grimes with two establishment Republicans utterly despised by grassroots Tea Party activists around the country, may, for the first time, give Kentucky voters who support the limited government principles of the Tea Party movement a legitimate reason to vote for McConnell over Grimes.
It was this core of supporters that gave Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) his upset victory in the 2010 Republican U.S. Senate primary and swept him to an easy general election victory that year. Until now, this voting block, which backed failed primary challenger Matt Bevin against the McConnell machine, had no reason to support McConnell over Grimes.
While Grimes’ new ad is unlikely to gain any traction among a populace that largely opposes amnesty and is skeptical of claims by establishment Republicans and Democrats alike that the Gang of Eight’s “path to citizenship” isn’t really amnesty after all, the most engaged Tea Party activists in the state seem unlikely to see it as a reason to support McConnell.
Scott Hoffstra, a well-respected Tea Party activist in Kentucky, told Breitbart News on Wednesday, “This ad won’t change the Tea Party’s mind about McConnell. We know his true colors.”
According to Hoffstra, McConnell “only voted no [on the Gang of Eight bill] because public opinion was against him. He put Rubio on the [Gang of Eight] panel to support amnesty and to give [himself] plausible deniability if it all went wrong.”
“Republicans like McCain, Graham, and McConnell,” Hoffstra added, “are pushing for amnesty to placate their Chamber of Commerce masters. Conservatives across the country threatening a revolt in November is the only thing that has prevented Boehner and McConnell from joining with Obama to push amnesty through. If McConnell wins reelection in November, he will be at the head of the line pushing for amnesty in the lame duck session.”
Six weeks before the election, Grimes continues to trail McConnell by 4 to 6 points, depending upon the poll. The campaign has stumbled on its messaging and the handling of the invitation and subsequent disinvitation of billionaire Warren Buffett to a California fundraiser for Grimes last week.
Grimes’ campaign looks rudderless and reactive and in need, as one Kentucky Democratic operative told The Hill on Wednesday, of a “shift [in] strategy.”
“I genuinely believe, if it’s an hourglass, the sands are running out [for the Grimes campaign],” Jimmy Cauley told The Hill.
“They’ve been outmaneuvered,” University of Kentucky professor Al Cross told The Hill. “Most people had already made up their minds about Mitch McConnell, but she needed to make a case for herself. Contrasting with McConnell wasn’t enough,” Cross added.
The reactive nature of the campaign was highlighted by the fact that the new “This is Not Amnesty” ad from the Grimes campaign does not appear to be part of a strategic thrust but instead a response to an ad that a pro-McConnell Super PAC, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, ran last week, accusing her of favoring amnesty.
“Mitch McConnell voted against immigration reform that would have helped Kentucky farmers and secured our border by putting thousands more agents on the border. Alison opposes President Obama in any attempt to alter our immigration system by executive order and believes Congress needs to do its job and pass comprehensive immigration reform,” Grimes campaign spokesperson Charly Norton said of the earlier ad.
Norton is also the spokesperson who claimed that the sponsor of the Grimes fundraiser in Northern California had invited Buffett to participate via conference call without authorization from the campaign.
Grimes’s voice was not only missing from her new ad. It has apparently been missing on the ground in Kentucky for the past week, as she has toured the country on a fundraising tour replete with big liberal special interest groups. In addition to the mishap with Buffett, Grimes hit a Hollywood fundraiser hosted by film mogul David Geffen, followed by a scheduled appearance at a New York City fundraiser sponsored by the pro-abortion Emily’s List. Though her name appeared on the invitation, at the last minute Grimes apparently thought better of showing up at an event sponsored by a group that supports a position that is very unpopular back home in Kentucky.
McConnell’s constant negative attacks appear to be taking their toll on support for Grimes, just as they did on Bevin in the May primary.
And while many Tea Party activists appear unwilling to forgive and forget, the same may not be true for the less engaged supporters of Tea Party principles.
In a tight Senate race in a state that Barack Obama lost by 23% in 2012, McConnell could win without the support of the most engaged Tea Party activists. The support of some portion of the larger percentage of the population that simply considers itself supportive of the Tea Party’s limited government message may be sufficient.
Among that group, as a recent poll by the Polling Company indicates, there is little support for the kind of “path to citizenship” Grimes, McCain, and Graham publicly support. And while Hoffstra’s criticism that “the real McConnell supports amnesty” may well be true, those who do not follow the issues as closely as the highly engaged Tea Party activists may not draw that conclusion.