Sunday, November 18, 2012

Blue America Welcomes A New Blogger-- The Purple State Progressive... Let's Start With Kentucky's Upcoming U.S. Senate Race


The elections are over, but 2014 elections will begin soon. It never ends, does it? The battle to strengthen the Democratic majority in the Senate will hinge in no small part on a victory in Kentucky to defeat Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It’s time to Ditch Mitch! Democratic challengers are being discussed and we should hear more in January of 2013 as challengers file early to get a head start on this critical 2014 race.

Unless Susan Collins (R-ME) decides three terms is enough, after promising Maine voters when she campaigned for her first term in 1996 and again when running for re-election in 2002 (before abandoning her pledge in 2008) that two terms was all she wanted, McConnell's Kentucky will be viewed as the best pickup target for Democrats. This, despite McConnell's expertise as a campaign cash vacuum. His campaign already had $6,793,660 in the bank as of September 30 and his leadership PAC, the Bluegrass Committee, has another $297,405 on hand.

Kentucky has elected great leaders to the Senate including Wendell Ford, Alben Barkley, and Henry Clay, and Kentuckians tend to select Senators that have the potential for leadership and influence. Mitch McConnell survived a very difficult challenge in 2008 from a Democratic candidate who was exposed for unethical practices at his nursing homes. Rand Paul won in the 2010 tea party wave against a Democrat seen as a liberal elitist. In both of these elections, the right Democrat could have arguably won the race.

In 2014, Democrats should put the attention and resources into a serious challenge to Mitch and take advantage of Kentucky’s purple nature. Remember, this is a state that Bill Clinton won. Mitch is widely seen as out of touch with the modern Republican Party and with voters in general, and who will be 72 at the time of his election. While not as old as Strom Thurmond, Mitch McConnell-- expensive dye job or not-- is past his sell date and a Democrat has an excellent opportunity to win this seat if he or she presents both a new vision as well as the potential to make a positive difference as a leader in the Senate. Thankfully, many talented candidates are on deck.

Here are the potential challengers to Mitch McConnell. All are good alternatives to the tired conservatism of My Old Kenutcky Senator, and here are their pros and cons:

 Governor Steve Beshear

Steve Beshear is an adept campaigner with a mastery of state politics. Born in Western Kentucky, Steve has attracted votes from across the state, and not just the major cities of Louisville and Lexington. Steve was reelected in a landslide election in 2010 against David Williams, a McConnell ally and recent convert to the tea party. Steve’s reelection proved to have significant coat tails down ballot. Steve is a moderate Democrat who raised the ire of liberals when he granted tax benefits to a right-wing institution dubbed the “Ark Park” for its Creationist displays of humans riding dinosaurs. Overall, Steve has made significant reforms to education and has shown exceptional abilities to manage the budget in a recession. Steve is term-limited in 2014, and may seek the Senate seat to continue his career in politics.

Pros: Steve has the highest statewide name ID of any possible candidate having won election as Governor twice, even winning in traditionally Republican areas. Steve has a large statewide network of supporters and volunteers and has the work ethic to do the hard campaigning necessary to win. Steve is a moderate who can appeal to independents.

Cons: Steve is a moderate Democrat which may be appealing to independents, but may be a more difficult sell to liberal leaders which could potentially result in a primary challenge. Steve may be seen as more interested in extending his political career than serving the Commonwealth.

Overall: Steve Beshear is the strongest candidate to challenge Mitch McConnell, and would likely cruise to a statistically significant victory.

 Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd is Kentucky royalty who has earned success as an actress and activist. Ashley also can leverage her star-studded family. Her mother, Naomi, and Wynonna, her half-sister, are music stars and she is married to Dario Franchitti, who won the Indianapolis 500 three times. (Country music and Nascar? Who likes that?) While she lives in Tennessee now, Ashley could move back to Kentucky to establish residency.

Pros: Ashley brings a fresh face to voters tired of seeing a man who looks like a turtle. Ashley has deep roots in the Commonwealth having graduated from University of Kentucky and has been seen by many cheering on all-important Big Blue basketball. Her star power, name id, and ability to raise money make her a serious foe. Ashley has also worked with Governor Steve Beshear on commerce initiatives and has some policy experience.

Cons: Ashley’s biggest con could be similar to the candidacy of Nick Clooney (George Clooney’s father) who was characterized as too wealthy and liberal. Ashley has not held political office before and may have to overcome the “Good Old Boy” network, (emphasis on boy).

Overall: Ashley is regarded by many as the strongest recruit because of her strengths but would need to reestablish Kentucky credibility and prove she is not only attractive but substantive.

 Matthew Barzun

Matthew Barzun is a successful businessman and founder of CNet. He served as the National Finance Director for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign and has been heavily involved in national and local liberal and Democratic politics. Matthew also married into the Brown family, one of Kentucky’s most powerful and wealthiest families best known for owning liquor brands including Woodford Reserve and Tennessee’s Jack Daniels. Matthew served as the Ambassador to Sweden and is widely regarded as a “big brain” with a positive attitude and thorough understanding of business and politics.

Pros: Matthew has an outsider background with business experience that could be compelling. He has experience abroad serving as an Ambassador and could debate national issues with Mitch. Matthew also has substantial personal financial resources and the ability to raise significant funds.

Cons: Matthew has not held elected office before and may be seen by some as too liberal. Matthew also has relatively low name ID.

Overall: With a strong well-funded early campaign and serious effort to introduce him to the general public beyond the Louisville urban base, Matthew could appeal to Kentucky as a substantive alternative to Mitch. He will have to work extremely hard to establish statewide name ID.

 Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes

Alison is an attorney in Lexington and is currently serving to elected statewide office as Secretary of State. Alison ran a strong campaign and has the appeal of Kentucky’s up-and-coming woman in politics. Alison is a talented campaigner and public speaker and most likely learned about politics from her active family. Alison’s father, Jerry Lundergan, has served as Chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party and was a top campaigner for President Bill Clinton. Alison’s mother, Charlotte Lundergan, serves as Kentucky’s representative to the Democratic National Committee. Alison brings knowledge of legal matters and state government to bear, as well as her recent statewide campaign.

Pros: Alison, like Ashley Judd, could capitalize on the growing willingness to elect women leaders. Alison’s family ties make her a serious contender in Lexington and northern Kentucky. Alison won a difficult primary against an incumbent Democratic Secretary of State and demonstrated the bare knuckle talents of a woman on the rise. Alison has the campaign spirit, the good looks, and the substance to run a credible campaign. Alison is not seen as a liberal politician despite her deep blue Democratic ties and may be able to win rural votes.

Cons: Alison was elected in 2011 to statewide office, and has more work to do to introduce herself to voters, particularly in the liberal population center of Louisville. Alison may also be unable to raise the funds necessary to beat back a spirited primary challenge.

Overall: Alison Lundergan Grimes’s strengths make her a serious contender although not the frontrunner, and she should not be written off in a scrappy primary as she has the potential to outperform expectations, win debates, and win difficult races.

 Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson

Jerry Abramson was known as “Mayor for Life” in the population center of Louisville and served for decades expanding and developing the city, including merging it and other areas into Metro Louisville. Jerry is known for his ability to attract commerce to the area and improve transportation, education, and race relations. Jerry was able to capitalize on Gov. Steve Beshear’s popularity and gained statewide exposure on the campaign trail during the Governor’s reelection.

Pros: Jerry brings good connections in Louisville and increasingly in Lexington and Frankfort, and nationally from his tenure as President of the United States Conference of Mayors. Jerry is a strong public speaker with deep knowledge of economic development issues. Jerry has high name ID from his tenure as Mayor and may be bridging rural distrust of the city with his tenure as Lt. Governor.

Cons: Jerry’s association with Louisville is risky in rural areas which resent the big city. Jerry’s political decisions as Mayor have not been seriously scrutinized and opposition research may find wasteful spending and other targets for Republican ads. Jerry is also Jewish which may be a problem with rural and independent voters in Kentucky. Jerry’s appeal to the Louisville base can be split by Ashley Judd or Matthew Barzun in a primary, and his ties to Louisville may make him vulnerable to a candidate like Alison Lundergan Grimes that coalesces the non-Louisville vote. [Ed- And Jerry is widely assumed to be as closeted as McConnell.]

Overall: Jerry Abramson is a very strong candidate who can give Mitch McConnell a run for his money provided he can avoid a Louisville-based challenge. Jerry may be able to use his experience as Lt. Governor to bolster his statewide credentials creating high name ID and significant opportunities for outreach beyond his urban base.

 Attorney General Jack Conway

Jack Conway was the challenger to Rand Paul in 2010 and in 2011 was reelected as Attorney General. Conway is seen as an effective Attorney General who has made progress in fraud cases and in shutting down child pornography. Conway’s family money as well as his support in Louisville is the foundation of his career, and he has struggled to reach past this base in statewide elections.

Pros: Jack is intelligent and has an accomplished record as Attorney General and was able to attract money from wealthy liberal donors in and out of the Commonwealth.

Cons: Wealthy donors to Jack are likely to support other candidates in this Senate race after the 2010 loss to Rand Paul. Conway was able to raise significant funds, but spent them questionably running an “Aqua Buddha” television ad that was widely seen as a belly flop. Conway also is seen as too wealthy and out of touch, and additionally, he is not known for his willingness to travel, stump and perform retail politics.

Overall: Despite his intelligence and strengths, Jack Conway would likely not survive a Democratic primary, and is very unlikely to be able to win a statewide election against Mitch McConnell.

 House Speaker Greg Stumbo

Greg Stumbo is Speaker of the State House of Representatives and a classic Dixiecrat politician with the ability to appeal to rural voters. As Attorney General, Greg was the lead attacker of Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher and his investigations helped bring the Republican down which led to the election of Steve Beshear. Greg has been an effective representative in the Capitol of Frankfort, and has run statewide campaigns and has solid name ID.

Pros: Greg is naturally appealing to rural voters and has deep ties throughout the Commonwealth from his experience in politics. Greg is a talented debater with a keen knack for tapping into Kentucky’s independent spirit.

Cons: Greg will struggle for funding in a primary against the other candidates mentioned and will face a struggle to attract the necessary votes against in a primary against someone who can appeal to the Louisville base.

Overall: Greg is a talented politician but will probably not enter the fray. It may be that Greg prefers to wait for the retirement or death of Hal Rogers, the Congressman from Kentucky’s Fifth District, and to instead serve as a Congressman.

Potential Candidates Who Have Declined To Run:

Former Auditor Crit Luallen

Auditor Adam Edelen

Overall, this is a strong crop of candidates and they will face a better environment than the tea party elections during 2010. We could see a female challenger with Ashley Judd or Alison Lundergan Grimes, a well-funded urban-based challenge with Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson or Matthew Barzun, or the potential for a moderate Democrat like Greg Stumbo or Governor Steve Beshear to win.

In January, Kentucky will be off to the races and let’s hope the results have Mitch McConnell crawling into the dark confines of a conservative think tank, and not the halls of our nation’s Senate!

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At 7:12 AM, Blogger Richard Taylor said...

A couple of points if I may (as a native Kentuckian living 'away'):

Kentucky has even elected the occasional worthy Republican (thinking primarily of John Sherman Cooper back in the day)

Ashley would have some problems in the eastern mountains as a lot of folks there resent her environmental activism and see her as anti-coal

At 1:22 PM, Blogger John said...

Someone, anyone, please explain how a state with Democratic governor, lt governor, atty general, secretary of state and speaker of the state house finds itself with a radical reich Republican senator, since 1984, ... who looks like a turtle?

John Puma

At 2:52 PM, Anonymous Megaman_X said...

Anyone but Bruce Lunsford


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