FRANKFORT — The campaign of Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes claims in two radio ads that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to take the right to vote away from black people.
The most recent ad, launched earlier this week, is narrated by Georgia Powers, a civil-rights advocate from Louisville and the first black person elected to the Kentucky Senate.
In it, Powers says "Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are trying to take away our right to vote."
McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore called the ad "disgusting."
"This is the kind of ad an unscrupulous, losing candidate may have considered running 50 years ago that we all collectively hoped was left in the past," Moore said.
Politico reported last week that in another Grimes ad playing on Louisville hip-hop station WMJM, a narrator says "McConnell has been leading the Republican effort to take away our voting rights. Just like he blocked everything from getting done in Washington, he's blocking the ballot box and trying to silence our voices."
Grimes' spokeswoman Charly Norton said the ads are based on McConnell's 2002 vote against extending voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences and legislation he introduced in 2007 to require identification issued by the government to vote.
Such moves suppress black voter turnout, Norton said, citing an Oct. 9, 2014 article in The Washington Post about a General Accounting Office report that found laws requiring voters to show identification when they cast a ballot have a greater impact on black voters and younger voters than on other racial and age groups.
The report found that after voter ID laws passed in Kansas and Tennessee, black turnout dropped by 3.7 percentage points more than white turnout in Kansas and by 1.5 percentage points more than whites in Tennessee.
In Kentucky, voters must present an ID or be known to a precinct worker before casting a ballot. As Kentucky Secretary of State, Grimes is the state's chief elections officer and has not asked state lawmakers to change Kentucky's voter ID requirement, said Lynn Zellen, spokeswoman for Grimes' office.
On felon voting rights, Grimes and McConnell appear to differ sharply.
Grimes has said she favors restoring the voting rights of felons who have completed their sentences. When McConnell voted in 2002 against an amendment to restore felons' voting rights after their jail term, the Associated Press reported that he said a convicted person "should lose his right to vote."
"Do we want to see convicted terrorists voting in elections? Do we want to see jailhouse blocs banning together to oust sheriffs?" McConnell said at the time.
The McConnell campaign unveiled its own radio ad Tuesday in hopes of attracting black voters. The spot features Noelle Hunter, a black woman and college professor who was featured in a recent McConnell TV ad.
"As an African-American, I know from personal experience that Mitch fights for our community and cares about us," Hunter said.
Orlando Watson, the Republican National Committee's communications director for black media, said that history has proven McConnell to be "a civil rights ally."
"These ads by the Grimes campaign are acts of desperation. They are racial rhetoric," Watson said. "Rather than talk about issues of real concern to blacks like jobs, the economy, education, faith and family values, they resort to talking only about voting."
Watson also said it is offensive for the Grimes campaign to suggest that any candidate who is against restoring voting rights for felons is also against allowing black people to vote.
"They want you to think that McConnell is trying to deny all black voters. That's offensive," he said.
Norton, who noted that one in five blacks in Kentucky is disenfranchised by the state's ban on felon voting rights, said the GOP's response "shows a complete lack of understanding about issues facing the African-American community."
According to the Pew Research Center, blacks made up about 8 percent of eligible voters in Kentucky in 2012.
A Bluegrass Poll released Monday showed that 60 percent of likely voters who are black intend to vote for Grimes on Nov. 4, while 22 percent intend to vote for McConnell. Among whites, the poll showed 45 percent favored McConnell and 42 percent favored Grimes.