Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes moved to make up for lost ground in an elaborate Senate campaign kick-off event on Tuesday, during which she characterized herself as a fighter for Kentucky up against Sen. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellFive fights for Trump’s first year Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road AACR’s march on Washington MORE (R-Ky.), who she said has "gone Washington."
Then, she appeared without any prominent Kentucky Democratic officials, in front of a backdrop recycled from her secretary of State run, and gave a 10-minute address.
On Tuesday, Grimes stood beneath a five-foot-tall "Alison for Kentucky" banner, flanked by the stately pillars of the mansion owned by her father's catering company, and spoke to an estimated 1,600 people on her vision for Kentucky in a 20-minute addressed sprinkled with personal family anecdotes and plenty of personal knocks on McConnell.
McConnell, she said, "has shown clearly that he only cares about himself," adding that he's "gone Washington" during his time in the Senate.
In contrast, she characterized herself as a fighter for Kentucky, pledging to "work for you, not the special interests, not the lobbyists, and not the national party leaders."
Grimes was preceded by a who's-who of Kentucky Democrats, with everyone from House Speaker Greg Stumbo to Gov. Steve Beshear giving remarks.
Grimes's sister read remarks from former Gov. Wendell Ford, who has endorsed Grimes but missed the event due to health issues, Rep. John YarmuthJohn YarmuthTrump becomes wild card in spending fight House Democrat introduces bill to amend presidential removal procedures CBO: Budget deficits, debt to reach record highs in 30 years MORE (D) weighed in from Washington via a video message, and Grimes's grandmother, Elsie, introduced Grimes and led the crowd in a cheer against McConnell.
Former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonLe Pen and the right wing hit a wall in French vote Bill Clinton jokes Clinton Center 'has been bugged' NYT: Comey distrusted Lynch on Clinton MORE, too, lent his considerable popularity to the rollout, pitching Grimes's appeal as a bipartisan dealmaker in a video message that closed with a reassurance to voters that "you can win" the race, expected to be one of the toughest of the cycle.
Campaign officials say they expect Clinton to play a prominent role on the trail for Grimes — hoping he'll boost her appeal in a state that went for Republican Mitt Romney with more than 60 percent of the vote last cycle.
McConnell's campaign, however, plans to tie Grimes to President Obama at every opportunity, and in a statement on her rollout, campaign manager Jesse Benton charged the Democrat would be "beholden" to Obama.
“Kentuckians have a clear choice between Mitch McConnell, an unwavering defender of our people and Alison Lundergan Grimes, an ambitious but unproven liberal who will be more beholden to President Obama and his financial backers than the citizens she hopes to represent," he said.
Grimes, aware that this remains one of her greatest challenges in the race, sought to distance herself from the president, declaring that she doesn't "always agree with the president," calling him "wrong on coal" and stating that ObamaCare needs to be fixed.
Stumbo also acknowledged a group of "coal miners for Alison" sitting in the crowd.
Grimes also pledged to support equal pay for women, repeal taxes that send jobs overseas and protect Medicare and Social Security from cuts.
Her rollout comes as another Democrat, Ed Marksberry, has filed suit against the state party for allegedly inappropriately favoring Grimes. The state party avoids taking sides in a primary, but Marksberry isn't considered by most local or national Democrats to be a credible challenger in the race.
McConnell, too, faces a headache from within his party. Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin entered the race last week, and has already received the endorsement of the United Kentucky Tea Party, the largest affiliation of Tea Party groups in the state, and the Madison Project, a conservative group that backs GOP primary challengers.
Bevin welcomed Grimes into the race and again hammered her on her party affiliation.
"I believe voters will look forward to a choice between a candidate who will fight the Obama administration's policies on issues like ObamaCare and regulations attacking our coal industry, and one who has been an enthusiastic supporter of the president and his policies," he said.