Alison Lundergan Grimes raises $2.5 million, sparking battle of spin

syoungman@herald-leader.comOctober 15, 2013 

Alison Lundergan Grimes' campaign was thrilled Tuesday morning to announce that the likely Democratic challenger to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell raised $2.5 million during her campaign's first three months, outpacing McConnell's haul of $2.27 million.

Despite topping McConnell, Grimes' figures were pooh-poohed by Republican operatives and described as "mediocre" by the chairman of the political science department at the University of Kentucky.

UK professor Ernest Yanarella said it was too early to judge whether Grimes would be a successful fundraiser, but he said the amount she reported for the quarter was too low considering she had been traveling to "where the money trees are."

"It's a mediocre number given where she has gone and what important politicos have done to try and open up the wallets and purses of star-power Democrats," Yanarella said. "So it's not good."

Republicans also noted the greater success Grimes' fundraising chief had while working to elect Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2012 and the time Grimes spent out-of-state at fundraisers in glamorous locales.

After Grimes' numbers were released Tuesday morning, first to The Associated Press, both sides dug in to spin the numbers in an effort to win the day's messaging battle.

The stakes are high.

Grimes has made fundraising the main and close-to-only focus of her campaign since entering the race in July. She traveled extensively outside Kentucky to places such as Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, Los Angeles and Las Vegas in an effort to put up a big number to show she could generate national interest in her effort to unseat McConnell.

On Tuesday, the Grimes campaign was ecstatic, pointing repeatedly to the bottom line for the third quarter and the fact that Grimes' cash haul was larger than McConnell's. They said they think Grimes is the first challenger to out-raise the longtime senator.

"The record-breaking showing speaks to the overwhelming grass-roots momentum behind Alison's campaign and the fact that people across the political spectrum are tired of Mitch McConnell's out-of-touch, failed leadership," Jonathan Hurst, a senior adviser to Grimes, said in a statement. "Simply put, McConnell is not receiving a passing grade from Kentucky or this nation."

Grimes received contributions from 13,327 individuals from all 50 states and all 120 Kentucky counties, Hurst said.

Republicans argued Tuesday that Grimes was sucking wind, noting that her fundraising team included notable giants in that field from Warren's campaign and the campaigns of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.

"Despite the support of Hollywood Democrats, Harry Reid's liberal pals in Vegas and being led by Elizabeth Warren's fundraising 'dream team,' Alison Lundergan Grimes still fell unbelievably short of her campaign's $7 (million) benchmark goal for her first quarter of fundraising," Kelsey Cooper, spokeswoman for the state GOP, said in a statement.

While Grimes' quarterly victory over McConnell is a short-term win for the Democrat's campaign, her efforts to lower expectations for the quarter were hamstrung by comments from one of her contributors and the impressive record of her fundraising team.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, the head of DreamWorks Animation, hurt the spin effort by saying last month that he raised $1 million for the campaign when Grimes went to Los Angeles to attend a fundraiser the Hollywood mogul hosted.

Grimes also faced comparisons to the fundraising efforts of Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who employed some of the same fundraisers when she beat Scott Brown in 2012. Warren, a hero to liberals and a national name before she got in the race in 2011, raised $3.1 million during her first fundraising quarter in 2011 and more than $7 million in the first quarter of 2012.

Regardless of the spin from both sides, Grimes's war chest still is far behind McConnell's, which is just less than $10 million in cash. Grimes is reporting she has about $2 million in cash.

Yanarella said that if Grimes showed in the coming months that she could present a formidable challenge to McConnell, she could expect higher contributions.

"People like to back a winner, and (Democratic contributors) know McConnell is a seasoned professional," Yanarella said. "Right now they're asking, 'Can this person really beat him?'"

Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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