Democrats gather to cheer Ford, jeer McConnell

syoungman@herald-leader.comJuly 24, 2014 

Alison Lundergan Grimes and Sen. Mitch McConnell

LOUISVILLE — The state's top Democrats took the stage at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Thursday night to toast a former U.S. senator and roast a current one.

More than 700 Democrats gathered at the Kentucky Democratic Party's annual Wendell Ford Dinner to honor the former senator — who recently disclosed that he is battling lung cancer — and blast current U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

While much of the evening was devoted to pep talks in support of U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, the crowd heard several tributes to Ford, including moving remarks by the former senator's grandson, Clay Ford.

Clay Ford read remarks sent with him by his grandfather, who was unable to attend: "I miss visiting because you're the people who keep our party and our state growing."

"Right now, I'm in the fight of my life," Clay Ford continued, chocking up and drawing a round of supportive applause from the audience.

The senator's grandson closed by saying that Ford is "a fighter, that's for sure."

"So in his words: Look out, cancer. Here comes Ford."

Gov. Steve Beshear told reporters before the event that his thoughts and prayers are with Ford and his family.

"I tell you, he's a fighter, and I think he'll win this fight too," Beshear said.

Grimes took the stage to close the program, beginning with her own tribute to Ford before quickly moving to an assault on McConnell.

Grimes asked the crowd for their support to help "send Mitch McConnell back to Alabama."

"A year ago this month, you asked me to put my life, my husband ... on the line," Grimes told the crowd. "I ask you, stand with me. You have been with me every step of the way, and as I stand here tonight, we are on the verge of making history."

After the event, Grimes took a few questions from the press and was asked again if she supported President Barack Obama's request for $3.7 billion in emergency supplemental funds to deal with the influx of Central American children across the nation's border with Mexico.

When asked earlier this month, Grimes four times declined to take a position, referring instead to the immigration bill that passed the U.S. Senate in 2013. On Thursday night, Grimes said, "My response remains the same."

"It's an example of Washington not working right now," Grimes said. "A year ago, we had the opportunity to pass comprehensive immigration reform, and Mitch McConnell stood in the way.

McConnell voted against the proposal, but it did pass the U.S Senate.

"Had we passed comprehensive immigration reform, we might not be here today," Grimes said. "My hope is that we can make sure to return these children safely and make sure we are securing our borders. Comprehensive immigration reform is a way to do that."

Grimes did say she was not in favor of "giving the president a blank check."

Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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