OWENSBORO — U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell drew a crowd of about 100 at the Republican Party headquarters here Saturday, a number that will undoubtedly be dwarfed by the crowd to see former President Bill Clinton when he stumps here Tuesday.
The Senate minority leader's message to Republican voters Saturday was about making him a leader for the future, even as a leader from the past is sure to generate excitement for his Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
"We've got a chance to have a Kentuckian set the agenda for the nation and every day looking out for Kentucky's best interest," McConnell told the crowd. "Every senator has one vote. But every senator doesn't have equal influence."
McConnell, trailing Grimes by 2 points in a Bluegrass Poll conducted two weeks ago, is locked in the fight of his political life, standing within reach of his ultimate career goal of becoming Senate majority leader.
While McConnell has long urged Kentuckians to make him "offensive coordinator" instead of just playing defense, he broadened that message on Saturday as Grimes has repeatedly argued that McConnell is only asking for a "self-promotion" that would benefit McConnell but not Kentucky.
With his Democratic opponent scheduled for six stops in Eastern Kentucky on Saturday, McConnell appeared to be trying to blunt Grimes' version of what it would mean if Republicans were able to win the U.S. Senate and he were to become majority leader.
While addressing the Fraternal Order of Police on Saturday morning at the same convention center where Clinton and Grimes will appear together Tuesday, McConnell followed up his routine criticisms of President Barack Obama by saying he was "hoping — obviously it's self-serving — but I'm hoping the American people would like to try something different."
"This is not just about bragging rights for me personally, this is about you and whether or not our state is going to be in a very prominent role in setting the agenda, not only for the country but in looking out for Kentucky's interests," McConnell said. "Because there's no better spot to be in to look out for your state's interest in the Senate than to be in the majority's leader's spot."
He added later at the rally: "This election is really not about me. My name is on the ballot, but this is about all of you and what you want our country to be."
To the faithful, the message appeared to be taking hold.
"We need you," Bryant Murphy of Owensboro told McConnell.
Afterward, Bryant said "the whole country is going in the wrong direction" under Obama.
McConnell declined to take reporters' questions after either event.
He did note at the second event that "life was not very complicated" in the days before he became part of Senate leadership.
But now, he said, "every crazy liberal in the country knows who I am, and they're sending money to my opponent."
"And can you think of anything more fun on election night than to convey the message to all of them their money was wasted?" McConnell said to cheers.
As the race nears its final two weeks, McConnell said his campaign has worked diligently on voter-turnout efforts and has "identified over the last year and a half more than enough votes to win this election."
As the race closes, there is less that can be accomplished by his campaign team at headquarters, he said.
"You gradually run out of things to do and everything moves out to the effort to make sure those voters that we've identified are more than enough for us to win this thing actually votes, and that's where all of you come in," McConnell said. "It's in your hands, and it really is about the future of the country."