FRANKLIN, Ky. (AP) — In this small Kentucky town near the Tennessee border, where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 2 to 1, Alison Lundergan Grimes and Mitch McConnell had the same message: change.
For Grimes, it is changing Kentucky’s senator, who she criticized for voting against raising the minimum wage and blocking measures that would ensure women are paid the same salaries as men for equal work.
For McConnell, it is changing the Senate to Republican control and putting him in charge of stopping a president’s agenda that he says has devastated Kentucky’s coal industry and upended the country’s health care system.
“If you want to change America, the first step is to change the Senate,” McConnell said Saturday in Franklin. “We’re not happy with what’s been going on the last six years and we want to begin to take our country back, and the place to start is right here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
McConnell and his allies are already running television ads comparing Grimes to President Barack Obama, whose disapproval rating in Kentucky is at or above 60 percent.
“Nothing about this election is going to change who the president is,” Grimes said in an interview, calling herself a “fierce opponent” to Obama’s new emission standards for coal-fired power plants, a big issue in Kentucky’s coalfields. “But Kentuckians do realize that we can finally change who is in Washington D.C.”
Facing minimal opposition, Tuesday’s primary is expected to result in a victory lap for Grimes as she seeks to rally her base heading into November. But the election is tricky for McConnell, who has a comfortable lead over Louisville businessman Matt Bevin but could lose some 30 percent of Republican voters to other GOP candidates.
“I think he’ll have a very tough time bringing them back,” said Jonathan Hurst, Grimes’ campaign manager.
But Josh Holmes, a McConnell campaign adviser, said the primary gives McConnell’s camp an advantage by forcing it to get the campaign running early.
“Our campaign has been up and running at full speed for six months,” Holmes said. “We are able to get through the primary election with an operation that we feel confident about that we are able to test and we’re able to carry into the fall that has some success already under its belt.”
That campaign has been fueled by record campaign fundraising. Grimes and McConnell have already raised a combined $19 million in the two years leading up to Tuesday’s primary elections.
A McConnell win would help Republicans as they try to take control of the Senate. A Grimes win would topple the Senate minority leader, a 30-year incumbent.
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