LOUISVILLE — U.S. Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul predicted Friday that any hurt feelings left over from McConnell's bitter primary against GOP challenger Matt Bevin will recede when conservative voters learn more about Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
"Really, the real question for Mrs. Grimes is how is she going to win in the state of Kentucky when she's a friend of President Obama and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid and she will vote for them?" Paul said. "Unless she can tell the voters she's willing to vote against Harry Reid, I don't know how we can consider her."
The senators spoke at a joint news conference that was the first for the two men since Tuesday's primary, when more than a third of Republican voters pulled the lever for Bevin.
Paul said he thinks "the people who identify with the Tea Party will come out when they realize what a disaster it would be for Kentucky to have Mrs. Grimes."
Last week's Bluegrass Poll found that 25 percent of Bevin supporters said they would support Grimes if McConnell won the primary, and Grimes sought to cement that support Friday with an open letter to Bevin's supporters.
In the letter, addressed to "Kentucky Republicans and Independents," Grimes wrote that McConnell "and his Washington lobbyist friends said a lot of negative untrue things about Matt Bevin and his family."
When asked for a list of the "untrue" things McConnell said about Bevin, Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton said she was "going to let the letter speak for itself."
"If you believe that it is past time to give Mitch McConnell and his D.C. lobbyist cronies the boot, I welcome you to join our effort to elect an independent, commonsense problem-solver who will fight for Kentucky values," Grimes wrote in the letter.
When asked about Grimes' letter, McConnell and Paul both laughed as the senior senator said he hopes "she'll spend all of her time trying to get Republicans to vote for her."
Later Friday, Bevin issued an open letter to Grimes, questioning where she stands "on issues like Obamacare, amnesty, and abortion."
"While there were indeed many negative and untrue things said about me and my family in recent months, and while there will certainly be similar false charges levied against you, I challenge you to rise above such drivel and focus on the real issues," Bevin wrote.
He did not mention McConnell by name, but said "Kentucky and America do need real change."
"The change we need, however, is very different from the proposed platform of government expansion that I have seen from your campaign thus far," Bevin wrote to Grimes.
Paul said he would do everything he can to help McConnell, joining McConnell's efforts to frame Grimes as a rubber stamp for Reid and Obama.
But just as Grimes left McConnell an opening this week by refusing to tell The Associated Press whether she would have voted for the federal health care law pushed by Obama, McConnell gave Grimes an opening when he refused to say whether he thought Kynect, the health care exchange Gov. Steve Beshear created under the health care law, should be dismantled.
More than 400,000 Kentuckians have signed up for private health insurance plans or expanded Medicaid coverage through Kynect.
"I think that's unconnected to my comments about the overall question," McConnell said when asked about Kynect.
He continued to call for repeal of the law "root and branch" and accused Grimes of "dodging" questions about the law.
"I think people in this state are entitled to know the answer to the question: How do you feel about it?" McConnell said. "And I think my opponent has tried to dodge that question. She's been dodging it for a year. She's been in this race for a year. It's time for her to answer the question: How do you feel about it?"
The Democratic Secretary of State has previously said that she has concerns about portions of the law, but she thought efforts to repeal it were a waste of time.
"Instead of saying that we need to kick our youngsters off of their parents' insurance or denying those with pre-existing conditions coverage, let's make sure that we are streamlining the regulatory requirements that are found in the Affordable Care Act so that we are easing the burden on the small businesses," Grimes told WKYT-TV last year.
McConnell continued his argument that a vote for him is a vote to make him Senate majority leader, but he stopped short of saying that repealing the health care law would be the first order of business for a Republican-controlled Senate. Instead, he promised a "very, very aggressive agenda to move the country right of center."
"We're not measuring the drapes here," McConnell said. "We don't have the majority yet. But I think it's reasonable to assume that would be a high priority for us."
After Paul said he would campaign hard for McConnell in Kentucky, McConnell was asked whether he planned to repay the favor in early-voting presidential states, such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Paul, who has said he is considering a run for president in 2016, has made several trips to early-voting states.
"First things first," McConnell said. "We have one in 2014, then we have another one. We'll discuss that at the appropriate time."
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.