FRANKFORT — National Democrats are helping U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes hold a string of fundraisers across the country in coming weeks as she builds a war chest to challenge well-heeled Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell.
While it's important for Grimes to raise big money, particularly before the next campaign finance reporting deadline at the end of September, she also runs the risk of appearing too chummy with Democrats unpopular in Kentucky.
The Republican Party of Kentucky issued a statement blasting Grimes only minutes after CN|2's Pure Politics reported Thursday that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will hold a luncheon benefiting Grimes' campaign in Las Vegas on Friday, Oct. 11.
The event is being organized by Searchlight Leadership Fund, which Reid founded in 1997. Tickets range from $1,000 for a guest to $5,000 for a PAC co-host, according to the fundraising notice published on the progressive website ActBlue.com.
"It should tell Kentuckians all they need to know that the biggest supporter of Alison Lundergan Grimes' campaign is Harry Reid, the man who thinks 'coal makes us sick,'" said Kelsey Cooper, communications director for the state Republican Party.
Cooper asked how Grimes could live up to her claims that she will stand for Kentucky coal if she's accepting money from Reid, who said in a 2008 TV interview that "coal makes us sick."
"Having the most anti-coal liberal in the Senate host a fundraiser in Las Vegas on your behalf while you preach to Kentuckians that you'll fight for their jobs and families? That's just plain insulting," Cooper said.
Grimes' campaign adviser Jonathan Hurst wouldn't talk specifics Thursday about upcoming fundraisers, but said Grimes "wants to be sure she has the necessary resources to send out her message of the need for change and to rebuke McConnell's attack ads against her."
Hurst conceded that McConnell will probably hold a fundraising advantage throughout the campaign "because he caters to Washington lobbyists and insiders."
"Money is necessary but we are energized already by the support of the people who are tired of him," Hurst said.
The most recent campaign finance report in the race on June 30 showed McConnell with about $9.5 million on hand, after spending about $4 million. Grimes did not have to file a report then because she had not yet launched her campaign.
Grimes will need to raise lots of money, but she won't have to equal McConnell's numbers to run a competitive race, said University of Louisville political science professor Dewey Clayton.
"She has to show she is a viable candidate" by the end of September, Clayton said. "I think $1 million would do that, since she didn't get into the race until July."
Clayton said he is not surprised that the McConnell camp already is blasting people who are raising funds for Grimes. The McConnell campaign would try to link Grimes with Reid and President Barack Obama "even if she were a carbon copy of McConnell."
"How effective that will be is left to be seen," he said.
When several national publications reported last week that movie executive Jeffrey Katzenberg plans to host a fundraiser for Grimes on Sept. 26 in Los Angeles, McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said it's "no surprise" that "Obama's liberal Hollywood friends" are supporting Grimes.
"They're obviously not concerned about Kentucky's representation, but they know that a Grimes victory would mean eliminating the last obstacle to enacting the full Obama agenda, implementing Obamacare, and officially taking out Kentucky's coal industry," Moore said.
The news that musician Will.i.am, front man of the Black Eyed Peas, will headline a Sept. 20 fundraiser for Grimes in Northern Kentucky prompted a McConnell campaign response that the artist appeared at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 in support of President Barack Obama's reelection and made a music video titled Yes We Can in support of Obama's campaign in 2008.
When two U.S. Senate Democrats — Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Begich of Alaska — sent out fundraising emails for Grimes, the GOP labeled them "anti-coal Democrats," citing Hagan's support for the Climate Security Act, better known as a cap-and-trade system.
There was no immediate response Thursday from McConnell's campaign to a CN|2 report that James Carville, a Democratic consultant and former strategist for President Bill Clinton, will headline a Sept. 28 fundraiser for Grimes at the Louisville home of Attorney General Jack Conway and his wife, Elizabeth.
Gov. Steve Beshear and first lady Jane Beshear are to serve as co-hosts.
Meanwhile, the Grimes campaign has not backed away from criticizing McConnell's fundraising tactics.
Before Obama addressed the nation this week about possible military action in Syria, McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, dispatched a fundraising email that noted McConnell's opposition to military action in Syria
Charly Norton, spokeswoman for the Grimes campaign, called the email "politics at its worst."
"Senator McConnell is exploiting the tragedy in Syria for his own political gain," Norton said. "It took him weeks to tell Kentuckians where he stood, yet only seconds to fundraise off of this humanitarian crisis."
The Washington Post last month reported that the 2014 race in Kentucky may result in the first U.S. Senate contest to crest $100 million in spending by all candidates and their various support groups.