Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes has set aside her folksy, light-hearted television ad series "Questions for Mitch" in favor of a traditional attack ad as recent polls show her losing ground in a tight race with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"What can happen in 30 years?" asks a narrator in the ad, which was airing in Lexington on Thursday. "A senator can become a multi-millionaire in public office while voting 17 times against raising the minimum wage, three times for corporate tax breaks that send Kentucky jobs overseas and 12 times against extending unemployment benefits for laid-off workers."
The ad concludes: "And when asked about it, just laughed. Thirty years of Mitch McConnell is long enough."
McConnell's campaign labeled the ad an attack on the senator's wife, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, although the ad never makes a direct reference to Chao.
Because the ad mentions McConnell's personal wealth, the majority of which was inherited from Chao's family, the McConnell campaign countered that it represented another attack on Chao, who has become a flash point in the campaign in recent days.
"The latest attack ad from Alison Lundergan Grimes is nothing short of despicable," McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said. "Apparently, Grimes' entire candidacy has been reduced to attacking Mitch McConnell's wife at every turn in the hopes she can distract Kentuckians from her profound inexperience and steadfast commitment to the Obama agenda."
Grimes campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton responded by noting that McConnell criticized Grimes' father, former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan, from the stage at last year's Fancy Farm picnic. She also pointed to supporting material for the ad that said McConnell has earned at least $4 million in government salary since 1985.
Earlier this month, Democratic strategist Kathy Groob posted on Twitter that it was "fair game" to criticize Chao's Asian ethnicity, prompting a denouncement from the Kentucky Democratic Party. That was followed by a McConnell ad early last week that featured Chao defending her husband's record on women's issues. (The fact-checking news service PolitiFact rated the ad "mostly false.") By the end of last week, a firestorm had erupted when Yahoo! News reported that Chao served on a philanthropical board that, among other things, aims to eliminate coal-fired power plants.
The bulk of McConnell's wealth comes from a gift Chao's father, an immigrant-turned-shipping-magnate, gave the couple and an inheritance she received after her mother died in 2007.
On Friday, the McConnell campaign noted previous fact-check articles have taken issue with Grimes' efforts to tie McConnell's immense wealth to his votes to raise the pay of congressional members.
In May, The Washington Post's Fact Checker wrote that "virtually all of the increase in McConnell's increase in net worth comes from his wife's money, not his congressional work."
The accusation that McConnell laughed when asked about extending unemployment benefits is a reference to a radio interview McConnell did with conservative talk show host Lars Larson in early January.
At the end of the interview, as Larson wished McConnell well, the host added that he hoped McConnell would vote against extending unemployment benefits. McConnell chuckled in response and thanked Larson for the interview.
Earlier in his exchange with Larson, which ran about eight minutes, McConnell outlined his counter-offer to Democrats, saying that "if you're going to do an unemployment extension, we certainly ought to pay for it."
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com