FRANKFORT — U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., depicts himself as a victim of "dirty" attacks by liberals, and as President Barack Obama's "No. 1 target," in a TV ad that begins airing Friday.
McConnell's campaign said it has spent more than $100,000 to air the ad statewide on cable and broadcast stations. It's the incumbent's second TV ad even though the election is more than a year away and no major candidate has announced to run against him.
The 30-second ad, titled How Dirty?, features a female narrator who says, "Mitch McConnell is Obama's No. 1 target because Mitch protects Kentucky from Obama's bad ideas. Liberals will do anything to beat McConnell."
Obama, a Democrat, remains unpopular in Kentucky. Early in the president's first term, McConnell said his "single most important goal" as Republican Senate leader was to make Obama a one-term president. Obama was re-elected last year.
The ad also mentions a recording of a private McCon nell strategy meeting with aides on Feb. 2 at his Louisville campaign headquarters, during which the group joked about actress Ashley Judd's struggles with depression. At the time, Judd was considering a run against McConnell.
McConnell said the secret recording smacked of a Watergate-style bugging. A Jefferson County Democratic Party official later said two people affiliated with Progress Kentucky, an independent super PAC, bragged to him about making the recording. The FBI is investigating.
"They also launched racial attacks against Mitch's wife," the ad's narrator says.
That was a reference to a Progress Kentucky tweet about the ethnicity of McConnell's wife, former U.S. labor secretary Elaine Chao.
"And now liberals compare Mitch to al-Qaida terrorists and North Korea's dictator," the narrator says in a reference to an ad last week by Americans United for Change. "How dirty will Obama's allies get?"
That latter ad by a liberal nonprofit group tried to link McCon nell to an American al-Qaida spokesman describing how to obtain guns in America. Americans United for Change, based in Washington, spent $5,000 to air the ad in Lexington.
In a news release, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said "Kentuckians are appalled" at the behavior of McConnell's opponents.
Democrats responded by pointing out that McConnell's support among Kentucky voters remains relatively weak.
"Polls show that McConnell is the most unpopular senator in the entire country, so he is desperate to play the victim, even comparing himself to victims of the Nazis," said Justin Barasky, national press secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Two Democrats without a statewide following have said they will challenge McConnell next year — Owensboro contractor Ed Marksberry and Louisville musician and music promoter Bennie J. Smith.
Several prominent Democrats are encouraging Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes of Lexington to enter the race. She has not yet disclosed her political plans.
Scott Hofstra of Vine Grove, a spokesman for United Tea Party of Kentucky, said Thursday that his group is "vetting potential candidates" for a Republican primary in the U.S. Senate race.
"We have no intention of running a weak candidate. We will find a true conservative," he said.
Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.