LOUISVILLE — U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said she was delighted but surprised to be campaigning in Louisville on Sunday morning.
Given that Warren's stances on guns, coal and health care align closely with those of President Barack Obama, Republican allies of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also were surprised but delighted when Warren announced she was coming to the Bluegrass State to campaign for Alison Lundergan Grimes, his Democratic opponent in November.
But Warren's surprise wasn't rooted in Red State versus Blue State dogma. Instead, Warren said she was surprised to be standing in Kentucky as a United States senator, given her hard-scrabble upbringing in Oklahoma.
"I'm a little surprised because this is sure not where I started," Warren told a crowd of Grimes' supporters at the University of Louisville. She added: "I am the daughter of a janitor, and I ended up in the United States Senate."
Calling Grimes "the next senator from the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Warren blasted McConnell's leadership of Republicans in the Senate, specifically targeting his effort to block her proposal to allow refinancing of older student loans and temporarily lower the interest rate on federal Stafford loans.
"That's what this race is all about," Warren said. "It's about a man who stood up and filibustered the student loan bill. Think about that."
Noting that her bill had fallen two votes shy of overcoming the Republican-led filibuster — McConnell said at the time that the vote was a political stunt to help Democrats in an election year, pushing instead for a vote on reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs — Warren asked the crowd to send her an ally in the Senate.
"You send us Alison Grimes instead of Mitch McConnell, and you change the vote," Warren said to applause. "We need Alison because Alison can fundamentally change the United States Senate."
Warren and Grimes accused McConnell of standing for "millionaires and billionaires" instead of siding with Kentuckians on a number of populist issues, such as increasing the minimum wage, education funding, infrastructure spending and fair-pay legislation.
"Today we have a separation, and that's what frames what this election is about," Warren said. "This election is about what direction our country will take."
Without going into specifics, Grimes and Warren said in their remarks that they were not on the same page on every issue.
"Alison and I don't agree on everything," Warren said. "We don't. But we agree that there is a lot on the line here. Our economy, our country, our values."
Grimes mirrored Warren's criticisms of McConnell, focusing her remarks on a populist economic message while keeping her aim trained on McConnell.
"I think Elizabeth Warren just laid down the challenge," Grimes said, taking the stage after Warren had fired up the crowd. "Mitch McConnell better be worried."
Grimes praised Warren as "someone who has fought as hard as anyone could fight in the United States Senate to literally level the playing field for the middle-class."
Warren is "someone, who when we finally get Kentucky's next United States senator, will have someone who will fight with the middle class right along with them," Grimes said.
The McConnell campaign released a number of statements throughout the week welcoming Warren to Kentucky, as McConnell continues to hammer Grimes as an ally of Obama and national Democrats.
"It's virtually impossible to think of a single way in which the Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Alison Lundergan Grimes economic policies have made life better for American families," Allison Moore, McConnell's spokeswoman, said in an email Sunday. "After nearly six years of evidence that the Obama approach has failed Kentuckians, nobody is buying more tax-and-spend liberalism cloaked in false promises."
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com