McConnell blames tight race on left

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comOctober 21, 2008 

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged Monday he's in a tough battle to retain his seat, even as a new poll showed the race tightening and Democrat Bruce Lunsford announced campaign stops by former President Bill Clinton on Friday.

"Unlike six years ago, it's not going to be a coronation," McConnell, R-Ky., said in Green County, his first stop on a statewide bus tour.

"It was fun getting 65 percent of the vote and carrying 113 out of 120 counties," he said of his 2002 victory. "That was then, and this is now. And what is different is that your senator is a lot bigger target than he used to be."

Meanwhile, a new poll released Monday shows McCon nell with a four-point lead on Lunsford. That is down from a 13-point lead for McConnell last month.

The poll, conducted by Research 2000 for the left-leaning political blog Daily Kos, shows McConnell leading Lunsford 46 percent to 42 percent. A month ago, Research 2000 had McConnell at 50 percent and Lunsford at 37 percent.

The latest survey of 600 likely voters was conducted Oct. 15-16. It has a margin of error of four percentage points.

McConnell's campaign down-played the Clinton visit and the new poll, saying that the only number that mattered is the final vote come Nov. 4.

McConnell blamed left-leaning groups for the tight race but did not mention Bill or U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton by name.

"There are people from all over the country on the political left who would love to see the leader of the senate Republicans defeated. And we're not going to give them the satisfaction, are we?" McConnell asked the crowd of about 40 people in front of the old Green County courthouse.

The race between McCon nell and Lunsford has been fought mostly on the airwaves — both trading jabs at the other in radio and television spots.

Neither candidate has talked much about specific issues such as the economy or Iraq. McConnell on Monday touted his position as the Senate Republican leader and his ability to bring money to Kentucky in stops in Greensburg, Campbellsville and Columbia.

Lunsford, meanwhile, campaigned in far Western Kentucky in Ballard, Fulton, Hickman and Carlisle counties. He was meeting with the Paducah Sun on Monday when he learned that President Clinton would be in Paducah and Bowling Green on Friday.

The details of the visit have not been released. Lunsford, who has twice run for state-wide office and failed, told the Paducah Sun that he thought he could win the race.

"If I win, it will be the second biggest win in the country because of McConnell's tenure and leadership position," Lunsford told the Paducah Sun.

McConnell's campaign did not seem concerned about Clinton's visit to the state.

Justin Brasell, campaign manager for McConnell, noted in a statement that Bill Clinton also campaigned in Kentucky in 1996.

"Senator McConnell won 55 percent of the vote that year and carried 88 counties," Brasell said. "We expect Clinton's influence on this year's Senate race to be about the same."

Lunsford was also getting help Monday from various union groups, while McConnell traveled with longtime Republican faithful, including state Senate President David Williams, R-Burkesville, and McConnell's wife, U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

Union leaders and volunteers started a tour Monday of the state to promote Lunsford and several other Democratic candidates. They plan to highlight election issues such as the economy, health care and retirement security.

"We can't afford four more years of heading down the same disastrous economic road with policies that benefit only the wealthy few," state AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan said in a statement.

Also, a group of labor unions called Truth from American Workers is running a 60-second ad on small radio stations in Western Kentucky blaming McConnell for the nation's financial woes.

In stump speeches Monday, McConnell reminded crowds how much money he has brought home to Kentucky — $500 million just last year. It's his seniority and leadership in the U.S. Senate that makes that possible, McConnell said. McConnell has been in the senate for 24 years.

"The guy running against me, if he was successful, would be a rookie," McConnell said. "Do you want to send Kentucky to the back bench with little or no influence?"

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