Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) kicked off the 2014 campaign season at Kentucky’s rowdy Fancy Farms picnic and wasted no time personally attacking his likely Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes.
McConnell said the senior Lundergan, who worked for Hillary’s Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, was framing his daughter’s candidacy as a boon to women in Kentucky, even while he donated to the campaign of embattled New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, who has admitted to sending lewd photos to women online.
It was a risky move by McConnell and it seemed to be on the precipice of backfiring. The estimated 2,000 at the politically charged picnic have a tradition of shouting insults at and heckling the speakers, and the attack charged Grimes’s supporters, who broke into chants of “we want Grimes” that nearly drowned out the senator.
Dressed down in a blue shirt and khakis beneath ceiling fans in the open-air venue, McConnell regained control by focusing his attacks on Washington Democrats, denouncing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) as a “Nevada yes-man for Barack Obama.”
“Kentucky’s voice is often the voice of opposition to the Obama agenda and I’m proud of that,” McConnell said. “That’s why every liberal in America is out to beat us next year.”
“The liberals are worried because, just as I predicted, ObamaCare is a disaster for America,” he continued. “I fought them every step of the way, every step of the way on the government takeover, and we stand up to their war on coal. Look, as long as I’m in the Senate, Kentucky will have a voice instead of San Francisco and Martha’s Vineyard.”
McConnell also flexed his political muscles, reminding the crowd of the value of his leadership position in the Senate.
“You can’t get [political influence] from the back-bench,” he said. “That’s why it’s very important to keep Kentucky’s voice strong. We’re not just choosing whose going to represent Kentucky in the Senate, we’re going to decide whose going to run the Senate.”
In her speech, Grimes focused almost entirely on McConnell and framed him as a creature of Washington who had outserved his usefulness to Kentuckians.
She took the stage in a red summer dress competing with chants of “we want Mitch,” but her supporters soon overpowered the Republicans in the crowd as she unleashed a series of blistering attacks against the Senate minority leader.
“Let’s tell it like it is,” Grimes said. “If the doctors told Sen. McConnell he had a kidney stone, he wouldn’t pass it.”
Grimes also took a shot at Tea Party favorite and junior Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul (R), who wasn’t in attendance.
“I know Sen. McConnell believes I’m not right for this job, because unlike him I haven’t spent 30 years in Washington,” the Kentucky secretary of state said. “But do I really need to apologize for having more government experience than Rand Paul?”
The Democratic upstart, who is tied with McConnell in some recent polls, hammered McConnell for his low approval rating and legislative struggles in the Senate, saying he’s presided over a GOP that stands for “Gridlock Obstruction and Partisanship.”
“Recent polls show he’s the most unpopular senator, among not just Democrats, but Republicans as well,” she said. “So after all these years at least he’s kept one campaign promise – to keep both our parties coming together.”
McConnell didn’t only have to deal with attacks from Grimes. Matt Bevin, the Tea Party candidate challenging him in the Republican primary, barely mentioned Grimes because, he said, “she and I will have ample opportunity next year on this stage when this guy’s gone.”
Bevin slammed McConnell for leaving the event early, accusing him of having “scurried away,” and inviting his family on stage while he spoke since McConnell “made room for us by leaving.”
“Where’s Mitch?" Bevin got the crowd to chant. “The people of Kentucky have been wondering that for quite a while now.”
Bevin’s rhetoric was harsh. He runs a manufacturing company that produces bells that his supporters rang at the picnic. He said McConnell seemed confused by the chimes.
“Ask not for whom the bells toll, they toll for you,” Bevin said. “Because the people of Kentucky have had enough. They toll for you because the people of Kentucky have had enough of the amnesty, of the bailouts…while small Kentucky farms get nothing.”
Bevin blasted McConnell for not backing a petition spearheaded by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and supported by a dozen other Republican senators to shutdown the government to block funds for ObamaCare.
“Stand with Sen. Mike Lee. Be a man!,” he shouted. “Stand up and put your money where your mouth is.”
If the annual politically charged picnic in rural western Kentucky on Saturday is any indication, McConnell will be fighting for his political life in 2014.