Though Alison Lundergan Grimes continues to trail in recent polls, Democrats are doubling down on their ad spending to prop up her faltering challenge to incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the Kentucky U.S. Senate race.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is spending another $1.4 million in television advertising this week in support of Grimes, this time for a new ad titled “Alison Cares.”
The strategy for Democrats in Kentucky appears at first glance to be almost exclusively media oriented, a contrast with the strategy in other contested states, where traditional get-out-the-vote efforts appear to play a larger role than they have so far in Kentucky.
The New York Times reported on Tuesday that in four other key Senate races Democrats have spent more than twice as much on grassroots get-out-the-vote and canvassing activities as have the allies of their Republican opponents. That comparative advantage for the Democratic candidate derived from the ground game in the Kentucky Senate race, on the surface at least, appears to be less significant than it is in other targeted states.
“We haven’t seen much ground game from Grimes. She’s making appearances all over the state and they’re doing a lot of radio and TV advertising,” Scott Hofstra, a Tea Party activist in Kentucky, told Breitbart News on Wednesday.
However, Hofstra, a Tea Party activist unhappy with McConnell, may not be the kind of voter Democrats are interested in talking to.
Their latest organizing effort, the “Bannock Street project,” which the New York Times described in February as “[t]he Democrats’ plan to hold on to their narrow Senate majority,” focuses on “10 states, includes a $60 million investment and requires more than 4,000 paid staff members.”
Kentucky is one of those ten states, along with “Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, . . . Louisiana, North Carolina, Michigan, Montana and West Virginia.”
The project, operated by the DSCC, was described in February as “its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get-out-the-vote and persuasion efforts.” The goal of the project is “to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers.”
According to the Times, the DSCC “is also joining with Civis Analytics, a data firm founded by Dan Wagner, who served as the chief analytics officer on Mr. Obama’s 2012 campaign. Because Civis is privately backed, including by Google’s Eric Schmidt, the partnership will provide Senate Democrats with additional troves of data to use to target voters.”
The community-organizing style tactics put to use by Democrats in Arkansas, as described in a recent article in The Atlantic, are at play in Kentucky as well, Al Cross, the former top political writer at the Louisville Courier-Journal, who now heads up the University of Kentucky Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, told Breitbart News on Wednesday.
From January 1, 2013 to August 31, 2014 the Democratic Party of Arkansas, the local group responsible for operating the Democratic Party’s ground game in the Pryor-Cotton Senate race, raised $4.5 million and spent $4.3 million.
Of the total raised, $2.6 million was transferred from “affiliated committees”. Of that amount, a whopping $2.2 million came from the DSCC.
The story in Kentucky is quite different.
From January 1, 2013 to August 31, 2014, the Kentucky State Democratic Central Executive Committee raised $2.5 million and spent $2.2 million, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
Of the total raised, only $550,000 was transferred from “affiliated committees”. Of that amount, only $212,000 came from the DSCC.
While some of the difference in the amount spent by the State Democratic Party organizations in the two states on ground game operations may have been made up for by labor union spending in Kentucky’s urban areas, the dramatic funding differential on the ground game by the DSCC may suggest that, despite the new ad buy, the DSCC considers Kentucky to be a less likely opportunity for victory by the Democratic candidate than Arkansas.
The Louisville Courier-Journal reported on Thursday this year’s Senate race in Kentucky may end up being the most expensive Senate race in history.
Most of that campaign cash for both campaigns is coming from outside Kentucky. As the Courier-Journal reported, their “analysis of $37 million in identified contributions supporting the two candidates so far in the race shows about 85 percent has come from out of state.”
According to the Courier-Journal, “[f]or Grimes, California has been the richest source of out of state money. The Golden State has poured more than $1.5 million into Grimes’ election prior to June 30. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the DreamWorks Animation executive and prolific fundraiser for President Obama and other Democrats, embraced the Grimes candidacy, hosting at least two California fundraisers.”
Other Hollywood celebrities who have donated to Grimes include “Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, Barbara Streisand, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicolas Cage, Kirk Douglas, Lily Tomlin and many others.”
While rubbing shoulders with the Hollywood elites may generate cash for the Grimes campaign, it may be less effective at generating votes for her in Kentucky, despite the existence of an under-the-radar “Bannock Street project” in the state.
Alison Moore, a spokesperson for the McConnell campaign, focused on that issue Wednesday, telling The Hill that “Alison Grimes is now relying on a group funded almost exclusively by Obama enthusiasts who support an agenda that could not be more hostile to our way of life in Kentucky.”
Grimes also seems to have trouble connecting at a personal level with average voters in Kentucky. As Joseph Gerth of the Courier-Journal wrote earlier this month, “Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes was having a problem connecting with women” despite finely tuned campaign ads designed to appeal to women.
And while labor unions, the traditional Democratic get-out-the-vote allies, have apparently played a role in the under-the-radar ground game efforts, members of one prominent labor union, the United Mine Workers, which has endorsed Grimes, seem to have little rank-and-file enthusiasm for her candidacy. The Obama administration has issued strict regulations on the coal industry, something McConnell has seized on during the campaign.
Robert Zimmerman, a donor to Democratic causes from New York, told The Hill on Wednesday “[t]he decision by the DSCC is absolutely a bold and smart decision, and that’s what it takes to keep the Democratic majority.”
Local media in Kentucky have pressed Grimes on the number of travel days she has spent outside the state raising money. On Tuesday, Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald Leader tried to ask Grimes a question about the high number of days that she, as the current Secretary of State, spent outside the state, but a testy Grimes refused to respond to his question.
As the Washington Free Beacon reported, Youngman asked Grimes “How many days of work would you say you’ve missed in the last year?” to which Grimes responded “I’ll stack my record up against Mitch McConnell’s any day.”
Youngman repeated his question on attendance, which Grimes refused to answer, instead shooting back “Would you like to ask a question directly, or let me finish?”
With a little more than a month until the election, Grimes is going to have to step up her game by giving the voters of Kentucky a positive reason to vote for her, rather than a negative reason not to vote for Mitch McConnell if she is going to have a chance of winning.
Though McConnell continues to lead Grimes in the polls, a decision by the Democratic establishment to pour huge financial resources into both the air war on television and radio and the ground game could make the race a down-to-the wire nail biter.
While the Republican National Committee has touted the engagement of their own ground game in Kentucky, even if that effort would reach a comparable level to what the Democrats already have in place, McConnell continues to face criticism on the right after a tough primary campaign against Matt Bevin.