When Senator Mitch McConnell faces off against prospective general election opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes at this year’s Fancy Farm Picnic, it will be the first time the Republican has met his Democratic challenger this far in advance at the event.
Director of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues Al Cross says McConnell had one such opportunity in his first bid for re-election, and didn’t take it.
“In 1989, looking ahead to 1990, Harvey Sloane, the Jefferson County Judge/Executive was openly running against McConnell," Cross said. "And McConnell did not give him the opportunity of a face-off that far in advance.”
McConnell’s last opponent, Bruce Lunsford, didn’t declare his candidacy until very late in the election cycle.
Cross said Fancy Farm could mark the beginning of a long and negative campaign.
“I think it’ll be no-holds barred,” Cross said. “I think that Grimes wants to really energize the Democrats and make ousting McConnell a cause. And I think McConnell has plenty of ammunition to use against her in terms of President Obama, who is not popular in the region.”
Cross said he thinks Grimes will present a good challenge to the five-term Republican, but says her chances of beating McConnell are low. Cross said that Kentucky Democrats have had a tough time generating voter turnout in previous senate races, so energizing the base will be a priority for Grimes.