Political Paddock: Kentucky politicians made gorilla-sized gaffes at every turn this week

Herald-Leader Political WriterApril 25, 2014 

Mitch McConnell

Did you have a good week? If the answer is yes, then you're probably not a Kentucky politician.

Gorilla-size gaffes over jobs, cockfighting, "secret club" meetings and slavery have haunted the candidates running for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, plus U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.

Spring fever has given way to spring screw-ups, and as the Bible says, there is none righteous. But the prize for the most self-inflicted damage goes to Republican Senate candidate Matt Bevin.

Bevin claimed in early April that he didn't know he had attended a pro-cockfighting rally in Corbin on March 29, telling The News Journal in Corbin that he thought the event was a rally for states' rights. "I was the first person to speak and then I left," Bevin said at the time.

Problem is, WAVE-TV in Louisville had a reporter with an undercover camera at the rally, a fact the station revealed in a report Thursday night.

When Bevin was asked at the event whether he would vote to legalize cockfighting in Kentucky, he responded:

"I support the people of Kentucky exercising their right, because it is our right to decide what it is that we want to do, and not the federal government's," Bevin told the crowd. "Criminalizing behavior, if it's part of the heritage of this state, is in my opinion a bad idea. A bad idea. I will not support it."

McConnell's campaign quickly issued a news release Friday titled "Matt Bevin caught lying to Kentuckians."

"Matt Bevin's cockfighting episode will go down in history as one of the most disqualifying moments in Kentucky political history," McConnell press secretary Allison Moore said.

Bevin said in a statement Friday that he is sorry his attendance at the event has "created concern on the part of many Kentucky voters."

Bevin said he has "never been a supporter of cockfighting or any other forms of animal cruelty," but that decisions on animal rights "should be left to each state to decide."

"I made the decision to speak at the gathering in Corbin because I support our 10th Amendment rights, not because I support or condone every topic discussed at the event," he said.

For McConnell, this week produced a gaffe that, although not as cartoonishly devastating as Bevin's, could leave a wound that the senator carries with him to November.

The editor of the Beattyville Enterprise asked McConnell what he could do to bring jobs to Lee County. His response, as reported by the newspaper: "That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet."

While Russia has been returning foreign policy to the headline discussions of politics, this is and will continue to be an election about the economy. McConnell is already in the fight of his life for survival. This is the type of misstep that can haunt a candidate up to Election Day, and in some cases, for years afterward.

McConnell's staff said he thought the question was about a specific project in Lee County, and McConnell later released a statement stating that his "message got lost in translation, and I was surprised to see a headline about my visit that sent the exact opposite message to the one I was trying to convey."

"Encouraging positive economic development and job growth is at the center of what I do every day," McConnell said. "At the federal level, I support policies to try to improve the economy as a whole, which in turn will help preserve and create Kentucky's jobs. These efforts include supporting an end to President Obama's war on coal and repealing job-killing Obamacare. Along with Senator Rand Paul, I was proud to sponsor the Economic Freedom Zones Act, which would spur economic growth in areas such as eastern Kentucky."

Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes seized on the gaffe, saying, "Creating good-paying jobs for Kentuckians and growing our middle class will be my top priorities as the commonwealth's next U.S. senator."

"It is reprehensible that Mitch McConnell believes that it is not his job to help Kentucky families who are struggling to make ends meet," Grimes said in a statement. "This latest shock from Senator McConnell reinforces the fact that the only job he cares about is his own."

But Grimes had her own, albeit lower-profile, stumble this week, with Politico reporting that Grimes is set to attend a "secret club" meeting next week of liberal donors whose policy beliefs differ greatly from the majority of Kentucky's voting public.

The Chicago meeting of the Democracy Alliance, which Grimes was scheduled to attend, is aimed at plotting how to move the Democratic Party further to the left, Politico reported.

With McConnell trying like mad to tie Grimes to President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, showing up at an event like this one plays right into the narrative that Republicans hope to create.

Moore, McConnell's spokeswoman, said Grimes' scheduled attendance at the meeting is "proof positive that she is way out of step with Kentucky values."

"This is a group of the country's most aggressive left-wing activists who advocate everything from the total destruction of Kentucky coal, a massive redistribution of wealth, to the confiscation of firearms," Moore said. "We knew Alison Lundergan Grimes was recruited by Obama liberals and funded by Obama liberals, but now we know for certain that she is in fact an unabashed Obama liberal who is attempting to fool Kentuckians by refusing to discuss her views in public."

Not to be left out, Paul, who is enjoying a heck of a 2014 as he positions himself for a 2016 presidential run, had his own head-hitting-desk moment after a rancher the senator had supported told the New York Times that he wondered whether "the Negro" people were "better off as slaves" than "under government subsidy."

Paul and a number of other Republican leaders had rushed in recent weeks to the defense of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who was engaged in a standoff against the federal government over his refusal to pay grazing fees for use of federal land.

After Bundy shared his thoughts on slavery, Paul and others condemned the rancher, but the Democratic National Committee blasted Paul for the length of time it took the senator to throw Bundy under the bus.

"I'm sorry, Senator, but your outrage should have been instant," DNC spokesman Mo Elleithee wrote in an email message. "He praised slavery. You needed some time to gather your thoughts?"

Paul said he thought the remarks were "offensive," adding that he "wholeheartedly" disagrees with Bundy. But for a senator who has embarked on an all-out quest to reach out to black voters while cleaning up past remarks about civil rights legislation, there is no margin of error.

It has been a rough week for Kentucky politicians, with at least one suffering a potentially fatal blow. If they have more weeks like this one, it will be a rough November.

Political Paddock includes Sam Youngman's observations from the campaign trail. Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Email: syoungman@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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