LOUISVILLE — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined more than 4,000 of Alison Lundergan Grimes' supporters for a rally Wednesday night as Democrats were eager to rebut the narrative that Grimes' campaign was struggling down the stretch in her U.S. Senate race against incumbent Mitch McConnell.
"I do believe Kentucky is Clinton country," Grimes said to wild applause.
Clinton took the stage at the Kentucky International Convention Center to a thunderous welcome, saying it was good to be back in the Bluegrass and remembering the time she spent in the state during the 2008 presidential primary, noting that she still smiles "when I think of that bottle of Maker's Mark that I dipped into the red wax."
"Well, tonight, I'm back," Clinton said. "I'm back for one reason, and that's because Kentucky deserves a change in Washington."
"Let's put another crack in that ceiling and send this incredible young woman to the United States Senate," Clinton said.
With Clinton possibly running for president in 2016, the event took on a presidential feel, and the crowd seemed as enthused about a possible White House run by Clinton as it was by the prospect of defeating McConnell, the Senate minority leader.
The hall was decorated to look like a presidential nominating convention, and signs posted throughout the seating area denoted each of Kentucky's 120 counties, similar to the setting of a national convention where each state's delegation is marked by a sign.
After a parade of state Democrats warmed up the crowd, with Attorney General Jack Conway and state Auditor Adam Edelen calling Clinton "the next president of the United States," Grimes introduced the former first lady as "a woman who has literally known me since I was 14 years old."
Grimes continued to fight the notion pushed by McConnell that she would be a rubber stamp for President Barack Obama, saying again that Obama isn't on the ballot.
"I am a Clinton Democrat, and that's the kind of senator that I will be," Grimes said. She added: "This election, it's not about who's in the White House now."
Clinton echoed Grimes' criticisms of McConnell, following her attack lines by telling the crowd that the best way to change the nation's capital was to "send Alison to Washington."
While not mentioning McConnell by name, Clinton blasted his positions on health care and the minimum wage while recalling the economic successes of her husband's administration.
The event could not have come at a better time for Grimes as Tuesday was dominated by news that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was not renewing its ad buy in the state, and a number of left-leaning groups condemned the Grimes campaign for running an ad in which she said she would never give "amnesty or benefits for illegal immigrants."
Though the DSCC tried Wednesday to convince reporters that it wasn't abandoning the state, pointing to $300,000 for Grimes' ground game, the candidate cited last week's Bluegrass Poll, which showed her leading McConnell by 2 points, and said she didn't need the DSCC's help, framing the election as "Kentucky versus Washington."
"We are ahead not because of Washington, D.C., insiders," Grimes said. "Washington abandoned us a long time ago."
With McConnell having released his fundraising numbers earlier in the day, Grimes appeared thrilled to tell the crowd, "we've out-raised the Mitch McConnell money machine yet again by nearly $1.5 million."
After days of enduring questions from the national media about why she refused to say whether she voted for Obama, Grimes included a shot at Chuck Todd, moderator of NBC's Meet the Press.
McConnell included Todd in a campaign ad after the well-known analyst said that Grimes had "disqualified herself" by refusing to answer the question. Grimes responded Wednesday night by saying that Washington needs a "woman who won't be bullied by Mitch McConnell or Chuck Todd."
Allison Moore, McConnell's spokeswoman, said in a statement that "the only possible reason why Alison Grimes would throw a party for Hillary Clinton but refuse to admit she voted for Barack Obama is that she thinks we're all too stupid to figure out they have the exact same policy views."
"Instead of highly produced events with celebrity guests, most Kentuckians would settle for an honest answer from Alison Grimes on anything related to the job of a U.S. senator," Moore said.
While both Grimes and Clinton avoided direct mentions of Obama, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth was eager to defend the president, pointing to the economic crisis Obama walked into at the start of his administration.
"Nobody has inherited a tougher job than Barack Obama did," Yarmuth said, adding that Kentucky's job losses are "on your head, Senator."
"It's not on President Obama's head," Yarmuth said.