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McConnell Gets a Rival, Kentucky Senate Contest Gets Interesting

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Morning Line

It might not be star-studded, and it’s very early in the cycle, but Kentucky’s Senate contest just got a lot more interesting.

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes made it official Monday that she will challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, giving Democrats hope in a red state.

McConnell, the ninth most senior member of the Senate, has represented the Bluegrass State for nearly 29 years. He criticized Grimes out of the gate as “[a]ccepting the invitation from countless Washington liberals to become President Obama’s Kentucky candidate.”

His team has been preparing for a competitive contest for months, staffing up and readying for his challenger, whomever that would be.

Actress Ashley Judd took a pass on the race against McConnell earlier this year, in part due to pressure from people who thought Grimes, who was also backed by Bill Clinton, would be a superior candidate.

Politico’s Emily Schultheis and Manu Raju laid out the stakes:

Grimes’s decision to run is a boon for Democrats in their chances of defeating McConnell. Even though she’s a political novice, she’s generally seen as the most formidable of the remaining Democratic candidates still considering a run. Her father, Jerry Lundergan, is a well-connected former state party chairman and maintains close ties to the Clintons, and Grimes undoubtedly will tap in to that family’s network during the campaign.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee insists Grimes’ entrance in the race makes it a “Tossup.”

Stranger things have happened, but this is a state Mitt Romney won by 22 points last fall. McConnell beat his Democratic rival in 2008 by 106,000 votes. And Rand Paul captured his seat in 2010 by 11.4 points.

(Remember when it was clear Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had no chance at re-election in 2010? Thanks to the tea party’s boost to Sharron Angle, Reid coasted to a fifth term.)

But national politics have a tendency to follow party leaders back home.

Democrats would love to see McConnell defeated, especially since he said his top goal was to ensure President Barack Obama served just one term.

The Associated Press notes the 34-year-old Grimes is holding tenure against McConnell, 71.

“I agree with thousands of Kentuckians that Kentucky is tired of 28 years of obstruction, that Kentucky is tired of someone who has voted against raising the minimum wage while all the while quadrupling his own net worth,” she told reporters. “Kentucky is tired of a senior senator that has lost touch with Kentucky issues, voters and their values.”

Politico’s Morning Score caught that the National Republican Senatorial Committee “is already up with search ads on Google” urging voters to “Donate to Stop Grimes.”

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza declared that it would be the “nastiest” race in the country. That’s in part because of the national attention, he writes.

And don’t forget, McConnell has been known to tell his consultants that money spent on a positive television ad is money wasted.

Even before announcing, Grimes already was the subject of $260,000 worth of ads fronted by a pro-McConnell Republican group.

With 18 months to go until the midterm elections, and party control on the line, look no further than Kentucky for this cycle’s prime contest.

The Morning Line will keep an eye on Congress, the president and national politics through Wednesday, and then we’ll take a brief holiday of our own.

STUDENT LOAN RATES DOUBLE

Interest rates on federal student loans doubled Monday, after Congress failed to renew a deal to keep the rates at 3.4 percent. NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill spoke with Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation and Anne Johnson of the Center for American Progress about why the rates changed and what this means for students.

“Interest rates are really low right now. So, borrowers who would be taking out loans this year or next year would get a pretty good deal,” Johnson said. “But if we look into the five, 10 years from now, interest rates are projected to go up. And those borrowers could be facing interest rates of 8 or 10 percent.”

She advocated for a cap on student loan interest rates.

But Carey looked at the issue more broadly. “The real problem is the debt itself and the fact that people have to borrow to go to college,” he said.

Watch Gwen’s report here or below:


Politics Desk Assistant Mallory Sofastaii put together this round-up of last-minute solutions Congress is contemplating in an attempt to stunt the interest rate hikes.

LINE ITEMS

  • Edward Snowden released a statement Monday via Wikileaks, criticizing the president was “using citizenship as a weapon.” And here is the NewsHour segment on the latest.

  • Mr. Obama joined former President George W. Bush in Tanzania at a wreath-laying ceremony in honor of the Americans killed in an embassy attack in 1998.

  • In an interview with CNN, Mr. Bush weighed in on the Snowden leak and Nelson Mandela.

  • Former Rep. Will Gray, D-Pa., the first black majority whip, died Monday in London at age 71.

  • A Texas House committee again will discuss the anti-abortion bill that stalled in the state House’s first special session that ended with Wendy Davis’ 11-hour filibuster. And Politico notes that national Republicans are staying out of it.

  • Sen. Mark Udall’s brother is missing after a hike in Wyoming.

  • Matea Gold writes for the Washington Post that defense contractors would get a boost out of the immigration reform bill.

  • Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley has $2 million in the bank for his Senate bid in Iowa.

  • Politico’s Maggie Haberman looks ahead at a 2016 campaign for the Democrats without Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t look promising. Haberman quotes a senior Democratic consultant: “There’s Hillary, and then there’s, like, Plan K. There is no B or C or G or whatever.”

  • Former vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is emerging as a top fundraiser for his fellow House Republicans.

  • A USA Today poll released Monday found that support for same-sex marriage in the country has hit a record high of 55 percent in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court rulings.

  • And a new Pew Research Center survey showed 45 percent approve of the decisions on marriage and 40 percent disapprove.

  • Rep. Tim Huelskamp did indeed file legislation proposing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and more than two dozen House Republicans have signed on.

  • Former Democratic Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, began a weeklong national tour Monday to promote the work of their gun control group Americans for Responsible Solutions. They started in Las Vegas, and will stop in major cities in Alaska, North Dakota, Ohio, New Hampshire, Maine and North Carolina.

  • The AP reports that you must now be a lawyer to argue before the Supreme Court, thanks to a Monday revision to the court’s 80-page rule book.

  • And the plot thickens. Attorneys for Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s former chef Todd Schneider filed documents in court Monday alleging that the McDonnells routinely used staff on the state payroll to perform personal and political duties without pay. Schneider, who’s accused of pilfering food from the governor’s mansion, maintains he was told to take food as compensation.

  • The Houston Chronicle noticed that Speaker John Boehner is raising money for the National Republican Congressional Committee alongside Rep. Don Young, R-AK, whom he criticized for using the term “wetbacks” earlier this year.

  • Democrat Jim Mowrer, a National Guard veteran, is challenging Republican Rep. Steve King in Iowa’s fourth district.

  • The New Republic’s Alec MacGillis tackles the Republican Party’s strategy of painting Hillary Clinton as “old news” should she decide to run for president in 2016. As does Businessweek’s Joshua Green.

  • Heard on the Hill is on the case: The founder of the “Insanity” workout was on Capitol Hill Monday.

  • The budget conference negotiations get their own cartoon ditty, set, of course, to “I’m Just a Bill.”

  • The Washington Post profiled Tom Whipple, the Virginia legend who used to get up before dawn to pull together political clips from the Old Dominion.

  • These charts show exactly how much parking your U.S. city might have for restaurants, residential buildings and workplaces. Hint: D.C. isn’t the best.

  • BuzzFeed asks if you could pass the literacy test forced upon black voters in Louisiana in the 1960s.

  • We’re really tempted to try this, but fear it could end up being really boring.

  • Actress Connie Britton of “Friday Night Lights” fame has teamed up with Planned Parenthood Action Fund to release a t-shirt to raise support for abortion rights.

  • Mother Jones has the lede of the day, about a celebrity visit to a lavish birthday party in Turkmenistan: “Gigli is no longer the most horrible thing J. Lo has ever done in her two-decade career.”

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow

  • Raymond Zhuang takes kinetic energy dance breaks. Jacob Poole hits us up about minerals. Watch those videos, and math and Spanish teacher Ernesto Lara’s winning science raps as we announce the victors in our first-ever contest. Or watch them below!

  • NewsHour renaissance man Mike Fritz produced this compelling, must-watch piece about a seminal moment for ballet. In 2011, after being cast as the prince in Sleeping Beauty, David Hallberg became the first American principal dancer for the historically insular Russian Bolshoi. Hallberg returns to the Bolshoi stage this summer amid much strife, just months after the creative director who offered him the role was badly burned and left nearly blind after a jar of sulfuric acid was thrown in his face in January.

  • You’ll find him anchoring NewsHour Weekend come fall. But Tuesday, Hari Sreenivasan will take your questions in a reddit “Ask Me Anything” beginning at 1 p.m. ET.

  • From the Archives: In our own memorial to Gary David Goldberg, the creator of “Family Ties” who passed away in late June, we reprise Paul Solman’s 1988 business story about his beloved old friend.

TOP TWEETS

Meena Ganesan, Terence Burlij and Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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