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Senate race is fight to the end

LOUISVILLE — Surrounded by a who's who of Kentucky Democratic officials and a Golden-Globe-nominated actress, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Lunsford said he hopes to be part of a national Democratic wave but stopped short of predicting victory.

"We have a great opportunity Tuesday night," Lunsford told more than 300 Democrats at a south Louisville rally. He said national pundits have pointed to Indiana's presidential race returns and the Kentucky U.S. Senate race as two key indicators early in Election Night.

"If Kentucky, by 8 o'clock, can't say Mitch McConnell is going to win, it's going to be a bad night for Republicans," Lunsford said after joining Gov. Steve Beshear, first lady Jane Beshear and actress Ashley Judd, an Ashland native, on stage at the amphitheater in Iroquois Park.

Lunsford has seen interest in his race surge among Kentucky Democrats as recent polls showed him creeping closer to McConnell, Kentucky's senior senator and the Republican Senate leader. As a result, big-name Democrats from within and outside of the state have rushed to his aid recently.

U.S. senator and former presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton will be stumping with Lunsford Sunday in Hazard and in south Louisville — two parts of the state Lunsford said he needs to run up big leads over McConnell on election night.

Clinton, who is in demand nationally for the closing days of the presidential race, is making her second trip to the Bluegrass State for Lunsford, and it comes just nine days after her husband, former President Bill Clinton, campaigned with Lunsford in Paducah and Bowling Green.

"Hillary and Bill are both people who have really added gravitas to this campaign," Lunsford said, adding that they could have sway with some of the undecided voters who still comprise about 8percent-10 percent of the electorate, according to the polls.

On Saturday, Judd spoke for more than 20 minutes, almost exclusively about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, for whom she has been campaigning in battleground states of North Carolina and Missouri.

But at the end of Saturday night's rally, she took the microphone back to make a pitch for Lunsford, saying that if Obama wins and "you send Lunsford to the Senate," he can help make sure some of the jobs Obama has pledged to create are in Kentucky.

Judd, however, may not have helped Lunsford earlier when she told the crowd that Republican presidential candidate John McCain was detached from the middle class because he owns seven homes.

"John McCain has seven houses. ... I assert that a person with seven houses is not really in touch with what he needs to be," Judd said.

McConnell has been hitting Lunsford, a millionaire businessman from Louisville, for owning multiple houses. Aside from Lunsford's Louisville condominium, he owns six other homes or apartments in five other states.

"I'm not in the same financial world Cindy McCain is in. She's in a different league," said Lunsford, whose financial disclosure forms show he is worth at least $40 million and potentially more than $100 million. John McCain's net worth was estimated at $28.5 million, mostly thanks to his wife's family fortune from a beer distributorship empire.

Lunsford said about half of his homes and condos were purchased for investment purposes.

"I grew up as a farm boy. My dad always told me to put your money in real estate. And it's a good thing I didn't put all my money in the stock market or it would be a pretty rough year," he told reporters.

In addition to Judd and Beshear, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, state Auditor Crit Luallen and Attorney General Jack Conway were among those on hand at the rally.

McConnell, on the other hand, has rejected the strategy of bringing in prominent figures.

"I've never been a big fan of having surrogates coming in," he said. "I had them occasionally back in the early days, but it's not unusual for me not to have surrogates."

Instead, he was joined by his wife, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, state Senate President David Williams and other Kentucky Republicans on a 60-county, 4,058-mile bus tour.

McConnell won't be appearing with first lady Laura Bush in Shepherdsville on Monday as Bush makes a pitch for Republican congressional candidate Brett Guthrie in the 2nd District. But McConnell — who will be on his traditional pre-election fly-around tour with stops in each Kentucky media market that day — said it had nothing to do with wanting to avoid being connected to the Bush administration.

"I don't think people are afraid to be seen with Laura Bush — she's widely loved in the United States," he said.

Earlier Saturday, he addressed 70 supporters who crammed into an office suite in suburban Louisville where the Jefferson County GOP has set up shop.

He said he would close out a victory on Nov. 4 on the strength of "the largest ground operation in the history of Kentucky, by far."

McConnell said 1,000 volunteers will hit the streets this weekend on his behalf to knock on 120,000 doors. Meanwhile, Kentucky Democrats plan to field more than 4,000 volunteers statewide for their get-out-the-vote campaign this weekend.

"A lot of these visits are targeted visits to households where we think people are either committed to us and we want to make sure they vote or they're undecided and we want to try to reach them," McConnell said. "I'm going to win the election Tuesday night. All the evidence is that we're heading in the direction of a victory, and I feel good about it."