GILBERTSVILLE — If Friday's partisan rallies are any indication, this year's election season in Kentucky will be all about Mitch McConnell.
Democrats, in their warm-ups for Saturday's Fancy Farm picnic, took turns taking verbal whacks at McConnell as if the senior senator were a political piñata. And on the other side of Kentucky Lake, Republicans touted McConnell — the GOP leader in the Senate — for bringing Kentucky resources and for serving as a conservative pillar in the Democratic congress.
”We owe it to America to return Mitch McConnell to the U.S. Senate,“ Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson told about 100 GOP faithful who gathered at Kenlake Resort Park. Grayson said McConnell has repeatedly ”delivered for Kentucky“ by bringing back university funding and money for other projects, such as a Veterans Affairs hospital in Louisville.
McConnell didn't attend the rally but will be the main draw in the speaking lineup at the Fancy Farm picnic Saturday.
The Democrats, meanwhile, had even more to say about him.
”Mitch McConnell is divisive,“ House Speaker Jody Richards told more than 100 Democrats at Rep. Mike Cherry's backyard rally in Princeton. ”He's destructive to the state of Kentucky, and he's deceptive because he's running those ads that don't make sense.“
McConnell's challenger, Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford, told Democrats the election is a chance to ”change this country.“
”We have an opportunity to send a message that enough is enough,“ he said, adding: ”He's not on our side anymore. He's on Washington's side.“
Later, Lunsford pointed to recent events, such as the indictments of Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, whom McConnell toasted last year during a celebration as Stevens became the longest-tenured GOP U.S. senator.
”There's a certain arrogance about longevity up there. With all the ability to raise money from special interest groups and the ability to use the federal budget to hand out earmarks, they really do believe once there, they're there for good. I don't think that's right,“ he said.
Later, at the Marshall County Democratic Party bean supper at Kentucky Dam Village, even mild-mannered state Treasurer Todd Hollenbach took shots at McConnell, particularly over taking several hundred thousand dollars in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies over the years.
”Ladies and gentlemen, if Mitch McConnell tells you he's not for sale, for once you can believe him, because clearly he's already been bought and paid for,“ he said.
Republican officials, meanwhile, predicted that Lunsford would receive little help in Kentucky from the top of the ticket this fall. Grayson said he sensed Democrats were running away from their presumptive nominee, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who lost to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York by 35 points in Kentucky's May 20 Democratic primary.