FRANKFORT — The candidates in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race continued an airwave war Monday over their records regarding veterans, even as Democrat Bruce Lunsford tried to capitalize on voters' worries about the economy.
In response to two hard-hitting ads released by Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell over the weekend, Lunsford launched one of his own on Monday that defends a veterans' health care company he ran that is accused by some patients of providing shoddy care.
Lunsford's ad says Valor Healthcare provides "quality health care" to 57,000 veterans and accuses McConnell of being so "desperate" that he "tricked a veteran into making an attack ad." The ad goes on to tout Lunsford's role in expanding Valor and creating jobs. "He knows how to get our economy back on track," says a narrator.
McConnell's new ads continued a line of attack begun in a Sept. 26 spot that featured several veterans complaining about the care they received at Valor clinics.
In one new ad, Arkansas Vietnam War veteran Lee Moore says there is negligent care at "Bruce Lunsford's clinics." Moore claims vital tests are ignored, prescriptions are botched and equipment is broken, "all to make profits" for Lunsford. He notes that the company was fined more than $130,000 "for bad care."
Lunsford served as chief executive officer and chairman of Valor and remains a director.
In another McConnell ad that started Friday, Robbie Doughty, a retired Army soldier from Paducah who was injured in Iraq, praises McConnell for his support and asks, "What has Bruce Lunsford done for veterans?"
Polls show the race tightening. An average of all polls in the race shows McConnell leading by less than 8 points, according to Pollster.com.
At one point last week, both campaigns were actually using the same veteran to attack each other in ads. Lunsford claims that McConnell tricked World War II Navy veteran Adolfo Pina into making an attack ad. In McConnell's Sept. 26 ad, Pina accused Valor of "mistreating our veterans while Bruce profited."
McConnell reworked that ad to delete Pina after Pina claimed he was misquoted.
In a subsequent ad by Lunsford, Pina said "Valor clinic is doing very good for me here in Texas City."
Efforts to reach Pina for comment have not been successful. Lunsford spokesman Cary Stemle said Pina, 84, would prefer that his comments in the Lunsford ad stand on their own.
As the two candidates battled about veterans issues on TV Monday, Lunsford said in an interview with the Courier-Journal editorial board that he would have been "hard-pressed" to vote for the $700 billion financial industry bailout passed last week, which McConnell helped shepherd through the Senate. Lunsford said Congress rushed to pass the bill, missing an opportunity to get the nation's credit system under control.
He said it appeared taxpayers would get "the short end of the stick."
"There were very few penalties; there's not oversight," he said of the bailout
McConnell campaign manager Justin Brasell said Lunsford's comments show "he's not ready for prime time, again refusing to take a stand on an important issue."
Brasell said the rescue plan will provide tax relief for tens of thousands of Kentucky families, sparing them from the alternative minimum tax.