Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell assailed likely Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes as "the new face of the status quo" as he touted his endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Lexington Friday morning.
Standing in an industrial setting at Whayne Supply, McConnell rattled off his campaign stump speech — opposition to the "war on coal," President Barack Obama's health care plan and excessive regulation — and said the best way to turn around the country and the economy "is this November make me the majority leader of the U.S. Senate."
When people ask him, "'Good grief, what can we do after this assault of the last six years?'" McConnell said he tells them "the solution in America is at the ballot box, and it begins this November."
McConnell, who is seeking a sixth term, said Grimes "will tell you she's a new face."
"Well, she's the new face of the status quo," McConnell said. "She's a new face for the same leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, who said coal makes you sick."
The U.S. Chamber has already run two statewide television ads in Kentucky supporting McConnell and criticizing both "Obamacare" and the "war on coal."
Rob Engstrom, political director for the chamber, said the group plans to spend "whatever it takes" in the Kentucky race.
"The U.S. Chamber doesn't ever talk about the amount of money that we spend, but the number one priority of the U.S. Chamber's political program is to make Sen. McConnell the majority leader in the United States Senate," Engstrom said. "In this case, we've spent more money on behalf of Sen. McConnell than any other race in America and that trend will continue."
Charly Norton, spokeswoman for the Grimes campaign, said in an email that "it's no surprise that Mitch McConnell called in the largest D.C. lobbying organization in the country for a photo op today."
"What is surprising is that they forgot to bring him a jobs plan," Norton said. "Rather than fighting for Kentucky's middle-class families, Mitch McConnell continues to protect D.C. special interests, just as he has for the last 30 years."
McConnell did not take questions from reporters after the event.
Grimes has made raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour a key platform of her campaign, a proposal that McConnell has said he opposes.
Monty Boyd, president and CEO of Whayne Supply, waded into the matter when endorsing McConnell Friday, saying that raising the wage would force him to "either raise prices or to reduce my costs. That's how business works."
"By cutting costs, I usually have to cut employees' jobs," Boyd said. "So we need policies that truly create jobs, which allow employees an entry-level position to grow and develop the skills so they truly can earn that higher wage and not artificially create wages."
Engstrom pointed to a recent estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that said raising the wage could cost the U.S. economy as many as 500,000 jobs. He said a wage boost is "a bad idea and bad policy."
When it was pointed out that the same report also concluded that raising the wage could lift 900,000 workers out of poverty and might have no negative effect on hiring, Engstrom said that his conversations with business owners around the country have led him to believe a hike would hurt the economy.
"What I can tell is that on behalf of the world's largest business federation (and) businesses of all sizes across America, this makes it harder for them to do business," Engstrom said. "It will not increase hiring. It will decrease hiring."
Lawrence Young, an Army veteran, spoke briefly with McConnell after the event to ask if the senator would fight for veterans' benefits and make sure no funds would be cut.
"He said not to worry about it," Young said.
The veteran added that he continues to be undecided in the race, saying he "might vote for that lady."
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com