$100 million Senate race? I need a drink

Contributing ColumnistJune 15, 2014 

Larry Dale Keeling

FRANKFORT — This and that playing catch-up from missing a column cycle, due to a spring head cold kicking my butt (the obvious freebie shot is there for the taking).

For the better part of the past year, some "experts" have suggested the tab for Kentucky's 2014 U.S. Senate race could total $100 million or more.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes combined raised nearly $29 million by the end of March ($21.5 million for him, $7.4 million for her). This is the U.S. Senate race to end all U.S. Senate races (at least in the 2014 election cycle).

Corporations and organizations freed by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision to spend squatzillions promoting their political agendas are expected to invest heavily in the outcome of the race.

So, I certainly won't argue with the "experts," even though I don't know them or what makes them experts other than being on the usual list of suspects of talking heads and pundits consulted by the national media.

But coming across the figure again the other day got me to thinking: How could $100 million serve a more useful purpose than electing someone to be a participant in our dysfunctional national government?

Being a thoroughly modern minor-league pundit (semi-retired), I immediately asked the Internet: "What will $100 million buy?"

I was hoping to find something along the lines of how many college scholarships it could fund, how many new jobs it could create, how many meals for the homeless it could buy, how many beds in drug rehab facilities it could fund or even how many more breeding seasons the sire and dam of California Chrome it could pay for, anything having nothing to do with politics.

Surprise! The first item popping up in response to my query was a list of nine things you can buy with $100 million posted on the National Republican Senatorial Committee's blog in response to environmentalist Tom Steyer, who made his fortune as a hedge fund manager, pledging to spend $100 million to help elect Democrats committed to combatting climate change.

(A hedge fund manager who isn't an Ann Randian free-market Tea Partier? Who knew they existed? But they have to be particularly galling to this generation of Republicans.)

At the top of the NRSC list of potential purchases was "The Donald's" personal Boeing 757. The next item was "769 rookie Derek Jeters" baseball cards.

Enough was enough for a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. A political post featuring the longtime New York Yankees shortstop popping up first in my search for useful purposes $100 million could serve caused me to end the search and start thinking instead of the hell Kentuckians will go through enduring $100 million worth of negative campaigning over the next five and one-half months. Next, I thought about how much of this $100 million would go to national consultants and advertising agencies instead of creating jobs in Kentucky.

That's when I decided to splash a little bourbon over a couple of ice cubes.

All the post-primary spin about the nearly 40 percent of Republican voters who opted for someone other than McConnell returning to the fold, as the losing side did after the 2010 GOP primary ignored one big difference.

Party members who returned to the fold in 2010 were mainstream supporters of former Secretary of State Trey Grayson, committed party members who held their noses and voted for Tea Party darling Rand Paul in the fall. This year's primary losers were Tea Partiers who consider McConnell a RINO who is no better than a Democrat. They won't vote for Grimes, but they may be much more likely than the 2010 primary losers to stay home in November.

After promising to do so, Grimes doesn't stand up for coal in a speech at a fund-raiser with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, although she and Reid say she did voice her concerns about the Obama administration's proposed new environmental rules in a private conversation. Hypocrisy? Possibly.

McConnell says his repeated vow to repeal Obamacare "root and branch" has no connection to the insurance coverage more than 400,000 Kentuckians have obtained under Kynect, the state's implementation of Obamacare. Hypocrisy? Totally.

Grimes will have a tough time winning the "war on coal" debate in Kentucky. But the success of Kynect could be a winner for her if she would embrace it the way 6th District U.S. House candidate Elisabeth Jensen has done.

My bucket list now includes having state House Speaker Greg Stumbo accuse me of promoting a "dumb-ass policy." If his recent use of the term is any indication, it will assure me I'm on the side of the angels.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com

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