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Ex-Memphian Aims at Major Upset

Rhodes College graduate Alison Lundergan Grimes now leads in the polls versus GOP Senate Leader McConnell in Kentucky.

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A political story with Memphis overtones is happening just to the north of the Volunteer State, in Kentucky, and, if it hasn't blipped much on the local radar, it has turned up big-time on that of the venerable New York Times and other national media.

This is the matter of Grimes vs. McConnell — or, more fully, an attempt by Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes to unseat the long-entrenched Republican incumbent, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader and the man behind all those filibusters of Democratic bills and initiatives of President Obama.

A Grimes ad reinforces this sense of McConnell and simultaneously gibes about his longevity with this kicker: "Let's tell it like it is ... If the doctors told Senator McConnell he had a kidney stone, he wouldn't pass it!"

What makes the race a Memphis story of sorts is that challenger Grimes, the current secretary of state of Kentucky, is a 2001 graduate of Rhodes College, where she majored in political science, with a minor in history. As her online Wikipedia bio says, "Grimes was a member of the Chi Omega sorority, as well as a student trustee and a member of student government."

The relative youth of the 35-year-old Grimes vis-à-vis her septuagenarian opponent has become a significant campaign issue. The current issue of the Times' Sunday magazine, in an article entitled "All is Fair in the Fog of Fake Outrage," about what it deems "the country's biggest Senate race," chronicles the war of words between Grimes' 25-year-old spokesperson Charly Norton and Kelsey Cooper, the 23-year-old counterpart who works for McConnell.

Among the charges Norton has had to defend on Grimes' behalf is that of accepting a campaign donation from Woody Allen, and, as the custom is these days, Grimes' campaign is being waged extensively on her Facebook page, where one finds not only her talking points (e.g., "For nearly 30 years Mitch McConnell has protected Washington special interests rather than hardworking Kentuckians") but exhortations from youthful supporters like one Richard Singletary, who advises, "ALISON, TELL THE CROWD YOUR PLAN!!! TO PULL DOWN MITCH McCONNELL'S PANTS, PLACE HIM OVER YOUR KNEE, AND GIVE HIM THE SPANKIN' OF  A LIFETIME!!!..."

More troubling for the incumbent than such hijinksy sentiments is the latest Bluegrass Poll, which, as Time.com notes, shows McConnell trailing Grimes by four percentage points, 46 to 42. A Rasmussen poll released in February had the two candidates in a dead heat.    

And there is the ultimate sign of gravitas for the Grimes campaign: Former President Bill Clinton has been making stump speeches for the challenger, calling McConnell's obstructionist Senate strategy "a dumb way to run the country."

The GOP Senate leader, who meanwhile faces a Republican primary challenger, Tea Partier Matt Bevin of Louisville, responds, according to Politico.com, with the idea that "Clinton's been a good luck charm for him: Every time the former president shows up, McConnell wins."

It remains to be seen, and we — along with, most probably, a fair share of Grimes' former Lynx classmates — will be looking. For local Democrats, anyhow, knocking off McConnell would be as satisfying as beating another Kentucky eminence, John Calipari.

• Shelby County Democrats, still smarting from the GOP sweep of county offices in 2010, are discovering one of the advantages of being out of power. They are the ones who have the most competitive primary contests — attention-getters in themselves and good occasions for developing the party cadres of the future.

One of the more interesting Democratic primary races is the one for Probate Court clerk, where no fewer than seven candidates qualified to compete for the right to take on Republican incumbent Paul Boyd, who is unopposed in his own primary.

In alphabetical order, the Democratic candidates are: Regina Beale, Jennings Bernard, William Chism Jr., Darnell Gatewood Sr., Cynthia A. Gentry, Aaron Hall, and Heidi Kuhn. The best known of these are probably Bernard, who has been active in party affairs and has run several times on his own (so far unsuccessfully) and Kuhn, an employee of the county mayor's office who is married to longtime activist and former Democratic Chairman Matt Kuhn.

Hall, a probate attorney who hopes to become at least well-known, had his maiden fund-raiser last Friday night at Overton Square's Red Bar venue. The turnout was modest, but it included a fair number of core activists from the Germantown Democratic Club.

It's much too early to pick a winner here, but the competition is bound to become intense and is fueled partly by the realization that Boyd, who filed in 2010 for a seat that no other Republican could be found to run for, is generally considered to have gotten lucky in that surprise GOP sweep year.

Maybe that's an overestimation of the incumbent's vulnerability, however. Boyd was the beneficiary of a fund-raiser at the Crescent Club recently and presumably has more such affairs coming.

• Another well-contested Democratic primary is that for Criminal Court clerk, where four Democrats are vying for the right to take on Richard L. DeSaussure III, who has been serving as incumbent clerk Kevin Key's chief aide and replaced his boss on the GOP ballot after Key's surprise withdrawal from his reelection race.

That makes the race for the clerkship an open one, and Democrats are optimistic about taking this one, too. Their candidates in the primary are City Councilmember Wanda Halbert, current City Court Clerk Thomas Long, the well-liked (but so far unsuccessful) frequent candidate Ralph White, and Assistant District Attorney Michael R. McCusker.

Of these, McCusker is the least familiar name to the general public, and the former Army major, a Bronze Star recipient in Afghanistan, is stepping up his campaign efforts in order to remedy that fact. There was a fund-raiser for McCusker on Sunday at the Collierville home of George and Susan Simmons, where the highly active corps of Germantown Democrats were again well represented. Consultant Liz Rincon is organizing some ambitious canvassing on McCusker's behalf.

McCusker at Collierville fundraiser - JB
  • JB
  • McCusker at Collierville fundraiser

• Democratic County Mayor candidate Steve Mulroy made the most of his Irish on Monday with a St. Patrick's Day bash at his East Memphis home. The affair was co-hosted by some major allies — fellow County Commissioner Justin Ford, City Councilmember Janis Fullilove, and Mulroy's political adviser David Upton.

Featured at the affair were green beer, Irish step dancing, and a limerick contest. In the spirit of encouraging competition, here's one of our own:

In the race to be Shelby's mayor,
there'll be tactics both foul and fair,
but the candidates know
they must have a good show
if they really want voters to care.

Alternate conclusion:

... they will have to raise dough
if they want to get anywhere.

Democrats Mulroy, Deidre Malone, Kenneth Whalum, and, for that matter, Republican Mark Luttrell, who'll have to face one of them down the line, will surely take note.

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