Grimes' Vegas fundraiser a dream come true for Republicans?

syoungman@herald-leader.comOctober 10, 2013 

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, and Ky. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes

WASHINGTON – Trial lawyers, anti-gun rhetoric and Harry Reid. Oh my.

Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes‘ fundraising trip to Las Vegas Thursday night may be music to Mitch McConnell‘s ears.

As McConnell, the U.S. Senate Minority Leader looks for ways to tie Grimes to President Barack Obama and Democratic policies enormously unpopular in Kentucky, Grimes’ fundraiser in Sin City could help McConnell’s efforts. Ticket prices at the Bellagio event run from $5,200 for a host to $500 for a “friend.”

Republicans have already seized on the location of the event, screaming about Grimes’ intentions to “hob nob with Harry Reid’s cronies,” and the hosts of the fundraiser could cause even more heartburn for Grimes.

According to the fundraiser invitation, the hosts of the event are both trial lawyers, one with a history of making anti-gun remarks that might not play well in the Bluegrass.

Mike Papantonio, a senior partner at Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor, P.A. and one of the event’s co-hosts, has been outspoken in his criticisms of the National Rifle Association (NRA), comparing the group to prostitutes during an interview on MSNBC.

“All the NRA is, it’s, you can almost equate it to, the industry, think in terms of the street and their, a street pimp and their working girl,” Papantonio told MSNBC host Ed Schultz in January. “I mean, the working girl is the NRA, the pimp is the industry that has people like Wayne LaPierre and the NRA and their talking heads out pimping for, really, out working the streets for them.”

The NRA didn’t take long Thursday to attack: “Alison Grimes would clearly rather hold court with her anti-gun Las Vegas trial lawyer friends than stand with hundreds of thousands of NRA members, gun owners and sportsmen in Kentucky,” said Chris W. Cox, the NRA’s chief lobyist. “While she may make empty campaign promises to support Second Amendment rights, her actions say something completely different.”

In 2012, Papantonio became president of the National Trial Lawyers Association, a group consistently targeted by Republicans.

Grimes' campaign took issue with the NRA charge, noting that her family, including her husband Andrew, shoot and hunt.

"As a contributor to the NRA, Alison's position remains clear that she is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment," Grimes' spokeswoman Charly Norton said in an email. "She is on record with the NRA and will always fight to protect Kentuckians' right to bear arms. Anyone who suggests otherwise is simply playing politics."

Grimes has hit the fundraising circuit hard, working to overcome McConnell’s significant head start and the almost $10 million he had raised through the second fundraising quarter. The candidates’ third-quarter numbers are due to be publicly released by next week.

In late September, Grimes reportedly raised $1 million at a Los Angeles fundraiser hosted by Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation.

“Alison is the nation’s youngest Secretary of State and a no-nonsense fighter for jobs, health care and the civil justice system,” the invitation reads. “She’s leading in the most recent polling but needs our support.”

Grimes is also scheduled to attend a fundraising luncheon on Friday with Reid, an event that has enraged McConnell. Traditionally, Senate leaders do not help each others’ opponents so as to maintain a productive working relationship in the Capitol.

Norton, the spokeswoman for Grimes, said in a statement that “unlike Sen. McConnell, Alison Lundergan Grimes cannot be bought.”

She added that criticisms from Republicans represent “another desperate McConnell attempt to distract from the fact that he is a walking embodiment of Washington’s dysfunction.”

“He has no problem filling his campaign coffers with money from K Street and represents big money special interests that allow him to thrive in corruption-soaked Washington,” Norton said.

McConnell has enjoyed fundraising support from Washington lobbyists, including a Sept. 26 fundraiser hosted by some of K Street’s most prominent.

McConnell also is no stranger to Vegas fundraisers. In 1997, he and then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., flew to Las Vegas on the corporate jet of Steve Wynn, owner of Mirage Resorts, to kick off a series of GOP fund-raisers. Subsequently, casinos in the American Gaming Association gave more than $2 million to the NRSC during McConnell’s chairmanship in 1998 and 2000, up from $375,000 for the 1996 races, according to a 2006 Herald-Leader report.

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