Much media ado about nothing in Senate race

Larry Dale Keeling
Larry Dale Keeling

FRANKFORT — What a kerfuffle over nothing.

Folks at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee opted not to make another television ad buy (at this time) in support of Alison Lundergan Grimes' bid to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and state and national media went all atwitter about the DSCC writing off her campaign.

Maybe the media pack shouldn't have jumped to a conclusion quite so fast. It appears the DSCC was simply shifting from an "air war" to a "ground war" in its effort to retire McConnell. The day after opting out of another ad buy, it contributed $300,000 to Grimes' "get out the vote" efforts in Kentucky. If the DSCC is writing Grimes' campaign off, it's doing so in a darned expensive manner.

Even though the DSCC said at the time the news about TV ads broke that it would still be helping in the GOTV ground game, why it waited 24 hours to prove it I have no idea. My guess is it was just another instance of Democrats doing what they do best at both the state and national levels: finding creative new ways to make themselves look needlessly silly.

But whatever the reason for the DSCC's communication breakdown, the mass rush by print, broadcast, online and social media lemmings over the wrong cliff was just mindboggling. Almost all the signs pointed toward a different cliff.

Yes, Grimes was catching flak for refusing to say whether she voted for President Barack Obama. But most Democrats in red or swing states are running as far away from Obama as possible in this election year. And, yes, she was catching flak from the left over her ad about undocumented immigrants. But if the left seriously wants to beat McConnell, it needs to understand what it takes for a Democrat to get elected in the state that has kept him in Washington for 30 years.

Those distractions aside, as the DSCC was getting out of the ad game, Grimes reported raising $4.9 million in the third quarter of the year (breaking the $4 million fund-raising record she set in the second quarter). So, if there is a second of TV ad time still available between now and Nov. 4, her campaign has the wherewithal to buy it without any help from the DSCC. (Besides, I hear there are other groups ready to step in on her behalf.)

Monday night on KET, the 35-year-old, first-term secretary of state at worst held her own in a debate with a 30-year veteran of insider Washington politics.

(She also finally gave a reasonable explanation for refusing to say whether she voted for Obama. Shorthand version: the sanctity of the secret ballot. There is a reason we cast secret ballots in this country. It's one of the differences separating us from dictatorial regimes. If you want to tell the world who you voted for, fine. If you don't, no one should put you down for it, not even if your sole reason for not doing so is to avoid giving Mitch McConnell a video of you saying, "I voted for Barack Obama," to use against you in an attack ad.)

Grimes led McConnell by 2 percentage points in the latest Bluegrass poll. Hillary Clinton was headed to Kentucky for what proved to be a very successful rally attracting 4,500 people in person and, according to the Grimes campaign, another 17,000 via live Webcast.

And Hillary's hubby, who did fairly well in Kentucky in two presidential campaigns and who has already made two appearances here for Grimes, will be back in the state Tuesday to campaign for Grimes in Western Kentucky.

None of this suggests, much less guarantees, a Grimes victory. A race this close will come down to both parties' all-important GOTV efforts.

But with all the positive vibes around the Grimes camp recently, a miscommunication about a change in tactics by the DSCC shouldn't have been enough to send everyone in the media rushing to write a premature obituary for her campaign. It did, though.

What a kerfuffle over nothing.

Reach Larry Dale Keeling at lkeeling@herald-leader.com.