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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.


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.


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

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