FRANKFORT — After a busy legislative session and a business trip to Taiwan, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is pondering whether to run for the U.S. Senate next year against Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell.
Grimes, a Democrat, said Tuesday she is "now going to take the time to reflect with my family, my supporters on how I can best continue to serve the Commonwealth of Kentucky."
Grimes did not set a timetable for making a decision, saying only that she will "give it the due diligence it deserves."
Political observers differ on how quickly Grimes should decide.
"There's more pressure on her now to run than need be," said University of Kentucky political science professor Donald Gross, noting that primary elections in the U.S. Senate race are still 13 months away.
But Democratic consultant Danny Briscoe of Louisville said delaying a decision could hurt Grimes' future political career.
"Her negative ratings will go up, thanks to McConnell attacks, and help her opponents if she's really thinking about future state races like governor or attorney general," Briscoe said. "If it takes six weeks for her to decide, the McConnell camp will spend $500,000 attacking her. How much more information does she need?"
He said Democratic leaders' pressure on Grimes to run will build steadily if she waits to announce her decision.
"She will be questioned about it every day until she says something, and if she says no, she will be viewed as letting the party down," Briscoe said.
Republican consultant Ted Jackson of Louisville said it's already too late for Grimes to mount a winning campaign against McConnell, suggesting that she should have announced her campaign a year ago if she were planning to run.
"Due diligence for her would be not to run," Jackson said. "This is going to be an extremely tough race for whoever runs against McConnell. ... Alison Lundergan Grimes should realize that the McConnell campaign knows more about Alison Lundergan Grimes than she knows about herself, and they will come after her."
Western Kentucky University political science professor Scott Lasley said "the real question" for Grimes is, how fast could she raise a lot of money for a campaign against McConnell?
The Senate Republican leader already has raised more than $12 million.
"Grimes probably could raise money quickly, but does she want to take the abuse she would get in a run against McConnell?" Lasley asked.
Grimes met Tuesday afternoon with Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, at his invitation to talk about the race.
She said they had "a good discussion" but did not elaborate.
Lasley said it was "interesting" that the governor is encouraging Grimes to run while she also might be considering a run for state attorney general in 2015 — a post Beshear's son, Andrew Beshear, also is eyeing.
The governor, a fellow Democrat who has had political run-ins with Grimes' father, former state Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan, said he wanted to talk to Grimes "about a number of things, including possibly the Senate race."
Beshear said Grimes is a good secretary of state and would be a good candidate for the U.S. Senate.
"I've been talking to several people to gauge their interest in running, and I want to gauge her interest in running," Beshear said, declining to identify others he has talked to about the race.
Actress Ashley Judd announced last month that she would not challenge McConnell in 2014. Judd had considered entering the race since late 2012.
If Grimes does not enter the race, former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler of Woodford County has been mentioned as a possible prospect. He was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Beshear said he thinks McConnell is "very vulnerable."
The governor said he doesn't think a viable opponent would have to match McConnell's campaign war chest.
"I don't think you have to compete against the senator in fundraising," he said. "I don't think anybody raises as much money as Sen. McConnell. He has made that his life's work. But we need a candidate who can raise enough money to run a competitive race."
Beshear said he wouldn't reconsider his decision to forgo another political office after his term as governor ends in 2015.
Other well-known Democrats who have said they have no plans to run include former Auditor Crit Luallen, Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Attorney General Jack Conway and former Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo of Hazard.
McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, took Grimes to task Tuesday for not criticizing Progress Kentucky, a liberal super PAC. It has been linked to a controversial recording the FBI is investigating of a secret meeting McConnell had with campaign aides in February and has come under criticism for a tweet about the ethnicity of McConnell's wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
"We thought Secretary of State Grimes would take the governor's lead and condemn the racist attacks and Nixonian tactics that some in her party have resorted to in attacking Sen. McConnell," Benton said. "Instead of joining a loud bipartisan chorus of Kentuckians, she decided her potential career aspirations were more of a priority."
Two Democrats without a statewide following have said they will challenge McConnell next year: Owensboro contractor Ed Marksberry and Louisville musician and music promoter Bennie J. Smith.