LOUISVILLE — The campaign for Democratic Senate challenger Bruce Lunsford launched sharp criticism against Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell on his national security record Wednesday, a day before the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Mitch McConnell says the right things, but when it came time to vote for security, he consistently opted to put partisanship over country," said Lunsford campaign spokesman Cary Stemle. "If we were to grade McConnell on the central question — Is America safer today? — McConnell gets an 'F.'"
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McConnell campaign manager Justin Brasell quickly denounced Lunsford's claims as "misguided" and accused the challenger of trying to politicize the anniversary.
"Sen. McConnell takes a back seat to no one when it comes to protecting the homeland," Brasell said.
Lunsford's criticism brought national security to the forefront in the increasingly bitter race between the Louisville businessman and McConnell, who is seeking a fifth Senate term in the November election. Much of the campaign has focused on high gas prices and arguments between the candidates on their energy policies.
Both campaigns sifted through McConnell's vast voting record in seeking to prove their points about the senator's handling of national security matters.
Lunsford's campaign put out a "report card," assessing McConnell's record on several national security issues. The challenger claimed McConnell flunked with his votes on implementing recommendations by the independent Sept. 11 commission, funding homeland security, screening cargo for nuclear weapons, improving airline passenger safety and strengthening security around chemical facilities.
McConnell's campaign responded with examples of the senator's votes to strengthen security.
"As misguided as Lunsford's attack is, it is even more crass that he seeks to politicize what is a solemn anniversary to all Americans," Brasell said.
Brasell said McConnell voted to carry out recommendations by the Sept. 11 commission, including many homeland security grant programs.
The senator supported measures to protect seaports through cargo screening and employee background checks, Brasell said. McConnell also voted to add Customs and Border Protection officers at ports and to allocate funds to prevent terrorist strikes against transportation systems, he said.
McConnell, the top-ranking Senate Republican, has been a strong supporter of President Bush's war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan. The senator has said in the past that by going on the offensive, the country's broader struggle against terrorism has been successful based on the lack of follow-up attacks on American soil.
Asked whether the country has become more secure in recent years, Stemle said, "We're not as safe as we need to be," adding that McConnell hasn't "done what he needs to do in that regard."
Both campaigns indicated they would not air political ads Thursday because of the Sept. 11 anniversary.