HARLAN — Democrat Bruce Lunsford tried to deflate Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell's Senate leadership status Friday, telling supporters that the country is suffering from a leadership drought that led to its worst economic crisis in decades.
McConnell, meanwhile, spent the day campaigning across Kentucky's northern tier, telling supporters that it would be unwise to trade him in for an untested rookie with no clout.
McConnell, the Senate's top-ranking Republican, told a crowd in Florence that he's a favorite target of liberal groups from outside Kentucky. A McConnell ally, Republican U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, called the senator "a firewall" to protect Americans from the liberal left.
"Of course, that makes you a much bigger target," McConnell said. "Second only to trying to defeat Sen. McCain, the hard left in the country wants to beat Mitch McConnell, and we're not going to let them."
Both campaigns expressed confidence heading into the home stretch of the hard-fought campaign, which has drawn attention and money from national Democrats hoping to expand the Democratic majority in the Senate by unseating the Republican leader.
"A good percentage of these nasty ads you've seen running down my record have been paid for by people in New York and Chicago and San Francisco, and I can tell you nobody from San Francisco is going to pick the next senator from Kentucky," a fiery McConnell told more than 100 cheering supporters.
During a stop in Harlan, Lunsford hit on economic themes while linking McConnell to President Bush, saying the two were "locked at the hip."
Lunsford, a Louisville businessman, said the country has "never experienced such a drought in leadership in my lifetime," saying it's to blame for what he called the country's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
"I'm really on a mission to change the direction of this country, because I've never seen it in worse trouble," Lunsford told about 100 supporters in Harlan.
Lunsford also took a shot at the $700 billion plan that Congress passed recently to try to rescue the nation's beleaguered financial industry. He said the plan "takes care of the banks and nobody else."
McConnell voted for the rescue plan, saying he did so out of concern that ordinary Americans were losing access to credit. McConnell said this week in an interview that the rescue plan was a "good first step" to help unfreeze credit markets. He said Congress should follow up with another economic stimulus package.
A Courier-Journal Bluegrass poll released Thursday showed McConnell with the support of 47 percent of likely voters compared with 42 percent who support Lunsford. Nine percent were undecided.
In another development Friday, McConnell's campaign rolled out its own version of a hound dog TV commercial. The new ad continued a McConnell campaign line of attack it has used before, pointing out that Lunsford owns several homes. In the ad, the announcer asks whether dogs looking for Lunsford would find sports cars or a jet.
Lunsford, a wealthy businessman, said it was a dishonest attack and added, "I'm not going to apologize because I've had a chance to do well in life. I want everybody to do well in life."
The McConnell ad was a response to a Lunsford attack that was a reprise of McConnell's famous bloodhound commercial in his victorious 1984 campaign against Democratic incumbent Dee Huddleston. Lunsford's ad shows two barking bloodhounds running after a man dressed as McConnell while claiming that the senator is running from his record.