Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election 2014: Kentucky: Grimes’ rookie mistake

WHAT was already predicted to be a bad night for Democrats started, well, predictably. By the night’s end, though, the disaster of Alison Lundergan Grimes’s Senate campaign was a template for the serial Democratic disasters to follow.

Built into her losing effort — she fell to Sen. Mitch McConnell, the presumptive next Senate Majority Leader, by fat double digits, 56 percent to 40 percent — was the folly of other Democrats in this election: an unwillingness to stand with President Obama, the standard-bearer of the Democratic Party, and an inability to craft a clear, articulate, passionate message that stay-at-home voters could get their hearts around.

From practically the minute the polls closed last night, McConnell was declared the winner in a hard-fought, nasty campaign. She followed the news of McConnell’s victory with a sour grace note: a concession speech that didn’t concede anything.

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Grimes, the Kentucky secretary of state, launched a campaign that showed her to be a challenger eager to position herself and her campaign as a fresh alternative to the sclerotic leadership of McConnell, who’s long presented himself as a master of congressional gridlock.

Her campaign was seen as a long-shot to begin with; Kentucky is a reliably red state and has been for decades. But Grimes soldiered on for months, holding her own in the polling, focusing on several tractionable economic issues, and bolstering faint Democratic hopes of turning Kentucky blue at the congressional level.

Then Grimes committed the unforced error of a political novice. In an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal, she stubbornly and repeatedly refused to say whether or not she voted for President Obama in either 2008 or 2012. Grimes rationalized — doubling down on her refusal as some kind of a stand of principle, saying that her past voting history had no bearing on what was facing Kentucky in the future.

It was the wrong principle to stand on. At least seven times in a week, Grimes refused to answer a question that should have been laughably easy.

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IT was the kind of inexplicable rookie mistake that might have been overlooked in a primary campaign, but not in this high-visibility general-election contest, with the Senate hanging in the balance. And there’s good reason to think that Democrats, especially black Democrats, didn’t forgive her.

A Bluegrass Poll conducted before Grimes’ Courier-Journal interview found HGrimes had a solid core of 80 percent support among the state’s black voters, 8 percent of the state’s total. A Bluegrass Poll after the interview found that black voter support had plummeted 20 points. McConnell’s favorables climbed by seven points. He never looked back after that.

The message from Grimes’ curious stand on the sanctity of the secret personal ballot was the wrong one to send. For loyal black Democrats, it sent the corrosive message that Grimes had no conviction — or at least no conviction she was willing to share out loud. And for stay-at-home Democratic voters, the Cousin Pookies of the Bluegrass State, it was just one more reason not to vote. Think of it: the Democratic candidate running for a Senate seat didn’t think enough of the leader of her own party to admit she voted for him. Why vote for her if she wouldn’t admit to voting for him?

Image credits: Grimes top: Alton Strupp/Louisville Courier-Journal. Grimes lower: Patrick Delehanty.

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