McConnell goes on offense in Kentucky

Sen. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellRyan seeks to put stamp on GOP in Trump era Trump and Ryan to speak by phone Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE (R-Ky.) and an outside conservative group launched a new barrage of campaign ads Tuesday against a prominent Democrat, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who has yet to even announce if she'll challenge the Senate minority leader in 2014.

McConnell, who conducted a similar preemptive strike against actress Ashley Judd earlier this year, pokes fun at Lundergan Grimes for taking her time deciding whether to enter the campaign. 

The Web ads will run on Google search and social networks.

The ad’s are set to run at the same time the pro-McConnell Kentuckians for Strong Leadership (KLS) airs its own attacks in broadcast and cable markets. 

The Republican offense follows an air attack from two Democratic groups, Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA, which portrayed McConnell as a long-in-the-tooth lawmaker who has overstayed his welcome in Congress.

McConnell's ad reflects the latest attempt by the five-term senator to insulate himself against a reelection threat.

With more than $8.6 million cash on hand, McConnell can afford the slow trickle of relatively inexpensive Web ads this far out from the 2014 election.

It’s a continuance of what McConnell called in a recorded private conversation the “Whac-A-Mole” period of the campaign. The comment was recorded by  a Kentucky progressive activist last winter.

“When anybody sticks their head up, do them out,” he told aides.

One Kentucky GOP operative said the decision by McConnell and KSL to target Lundergan Grimes is meant to strike some fear into her — and every other prospective Democrat.

"Our aim is to convince [Lundergan Grimes], and any Democrat, that this is a fool's errand,” the operative said.

“They all need to know that this is going to be a long road and a difficult road ... It's not going to be fun and games.”

Though Democrats believe McConnell to be vulnerable, a handful of potential candidates have already turned down the opportunity to run, wary of what Kentucky politicos agree will be a difficult fight.

McConnell's campaign had previously mocked Democratic efforts to recruit a candidate in Kentucky. One Web ad showed Judd saying that “Tennessee is my home."

Lundergan Grimes, 34, emerged as the strongest remaining Democrat after Judd decided in March against running. 

A Democratic poll conducted for Senate Majority PAC showed her tied with McConnell. A separate survey from a GOP pollster gave McConnell a 7-point lead. 

Lundergran Grimes has been under heavy pressure from a number of prominent Democrats to make a decision on the Senate campaign. 

Rep. John YarmuthJohn YarmuthA case for the Yarmuth-Price resolution Subcommittee clears bill on cap for phone, internet subsidies Lawmakers split on cap for internet, phone subsidies at hearing MORE (D-Ky.) said last month she was doing a “disservice to the party” by putting off an announcement because other potential candidates were waiting to learn her plans. 

The decision is a high stakes one. 

An unsuccessful Senate campaign could jeopardize Lundergan Grimes’s political future in the state. 

She won the most votes of any statewide Democrat in 2011, and is also said to be considering a future run for attorney general. 

The McConnell ad plays off of Democratic frustration about the waiting game. 

It features actors impersonating President Obama, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D), Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), former President Clinton and former Senate candidate Harvey Sloane. 

They leave messages on Lundergan Grimes’s voicemail in the ad while others, including former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonClinton urged to go liberal with vice presidential pick Sanders takes different position on superdelegates than he did in 2008 Libertarian Party eyes 2016 as breakthrough year MORE, Judd and state Attorney General Jack Conway, send instant messages on a laptop.

The message from Yarmuth urges Lundergan Grimes to run because "McConnell sucks," a reference to criticism he lobbed at the senator recently

Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, meanwhile, is trying to saddle Lundergan Grimes with the baggage of Obama's unpopularity in the state. He lost Kentucky by more than 20 points in 2012.

The group’s ad describes her as “Obama's cheerleader in Kentucky." 

Even without a candidate, Democrats are stepping up their own attacks on McConnell. 

As part of an extended campaign against McConnell, Senate Majority PAC and Patriot Majority USA are launching new ads on Google, Facebook and the Internet radio service Pandora suggesting McConnell's nearly 30-year tenure in Congress is too long.

The groups have spent an initial $250,000 on their first round of ads and are backing the new web ads with an additional $10,000.

This story was first posted at 8:40 a.m. and has been updated.

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