Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that likely Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes needs to "do some serious soul searching" after she didn't speak out about Democratic senators conducting an all-night "talk-athon" on climate change.
McConnell seized on the Democrats' discussion of climate change and a news report suggesting that someone associated with Grimes' campaign had secretly told an environmentalist that Grimes would be "more forthright" about her stances on environmental issues after the election.
"It is one of the primary responsibilities of a U.S. Senator to speak out when fellow lawmakers are actively working against your constituents' best interests," McConnell said in a statement. "It is very disappointing that Alison Lundergan Grimes could not muster a word against her liberal allies in Washington who were pulling an all-nighter to shut down the coal industry and left open the possibility that she would join them."
In a campaign that has thus far been fought largely by press secretaries from the two camps, McConnell's statement indicates that he sees an opportunity to damage Grimes on the issue.
Monday night's theatrics in Washington coincided with a report from WFPL, a public radio station in Louisville, that someone from the Grimes campaign had told Louisville environmentalist Sarah Lynn Cunningham that Grimes would be more open about her environmental beliefs after the election.
WFPL reported that Cunningham said "a Grimes campaign official recently told her that the first-term secretary of state would be more forthright on legislative steps to combat pollutants once McConnell was defeated in the fall."
Grimes campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton denied that any such promise was made.
"Alison's pro-coal position remains the same," spokeswoman Charly Norton told WFPL. "No member of this campaign has ever communicated otherwise to Cunningham or anyone else."
In an e-mail to WFPL, Cunningham later described the person who spoke to her as a "campaign volunteer."
Grimes has been nearly impossible to pin down on the effects carbon fuels have on climate change, saying she believes in climate change while trying to position herself as a pro-coal candidate.
"I do believe that we are left with one Earth, and that it's our job to hopefully leave it in a better place than when we found it," Grimes told the Herald-Leader in January. "But I think that we don't, at the expense of over-burdensome regulation, turn our blind eye to a devastating impact economically that Washington is having on jobs here in Kentucky. So for me, it is about a balanced approach."
Cunningham expressed doubt that Grimes would ever champion legislation to combat climate change.
"There's this thinking that after Alison Lundergan Grimes were to win, then she would sober up to reality and start talking about climate change and what we were going to do about it," Cunningham told the station. "I'm not holding my breath on that one. I think that if she takes a lot of money from the fossil fuel industry, she's going to continue to be mum. It's very uninspiring to people like me."
McConnell and his campaign blasted Grimes first for the WFPL report, then for her silence on whether she would have joined the "talk-athon," which was skipped by several Democrats from conservative-leaning states, including Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of N.C., and Mary Landrieu of La.
"If you're conflicted about fighting for the jobs of fellow Kentuckians, you need to do some serious soul-searching about why it is you're running for U.S. Senate in the first place," McConnell said.
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.