After months of consideration, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes announced Monday that she will mount a campaign against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, giving national Democrats a recruitment win following a series of failures to attract major candidates into Southern Senate races this cycle.
Grimes won her first term as secretary of state in 2011 with a resounding 60 percent of the vote, outpacing Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear by 5 points. She proved a strong fundraiser in her first statewide race, and she's got political connections through her father, former Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan. She'll need to use those connections if she has any hope of competing with McConnell's $8.3 million warchest. Her ties to the Clintons, who had reportedly urged her to get into the race, could be a big help in that regard.
Grimes has long been at the top of Democrats' list to take on McConnell, one of their top targets for 2014. But she has been tight-lipped over the last few months, and Rep. John Yarmuth, who has long pushed for her candidacy, complained to ABC News last month that she had stopped returning Democrats' phone calls altogether. Democrats nevertheless remained hopeful that she would get into the race, particularly after she repeatedly slammed McConnell at a party fundraiser earlier this month.
Grimes gives Democrats the opportunity to mount a strong campaign against the minority leader, and there's evidence that McConnell's team agrees. Though McConnell and his allies ran Web ads attacking other potential Democratic contenders, including actress Ashley Judd, they've pulled out the big guns for Grimes in recent weeks. Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a super PAC backing McConnell, began running newspaper ads targeting Grimes earlier this month and released their first television spot tying her to President Obama just last week.
Expect to see more ads like that in the future. Grimes doesn't have a record on many national issues, something the McConnell camp griped about in a secretly recorded meeting earlier this year. In the meantime, they'll tie her to Obama, who pulled in less than 38 percent of the vote in Kentucky last year. Another likely line of attack: Grimes would be breaking her campaign pledge to serve out a full term as secretary of state. Though she hasn't yet resigned, her term doesn't end until 2016.
National Democrats will be there to back her up. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has pushed hard for Grimes to get into the race and Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA are already up on television. The two spent $250,000 on a joint TV spot targeting McConnell earlier this week.
Though her delayed timeline concerned some Democrats, including Yarmuth, her announcement Monday allows Grimes to avoid reporting her nascent campaign's financial state until Oct. 15. The Federal Election Commission's deadline for second quarter reports ended June 30.