Op-Ed

It's all about getting out the vote as horrific ad wars end

FRANKFORT — Presumably, Kentuckians' long (very long) campaign nightmare ends sometime Tuesday evening. Barring a near dead heat that extends the vote-counting, we'll know then whether incumbent Mitch McConnell or challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes represents the state in the U.S. Senate for the next six years.

While the latest Bluegrass Poll results showed McConnell leading by 5 percentage points, the spread was within the margin of error.

So, Grimes still has a chance to help McConnell experience a new "worst day of my political life," one easily topping the day former President George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law McConnell opposed.

Although the horrific ad wars will continue unabated over the next couple of days, it's now really all about getting out the vote. And the campaign with the superior ground game should prevail.

Down the ticket, we will also know Tuesday evening whether Republicans succeed in flipping the state House of Representatives at the ballot box for the first time since the 1920s. My guess, and it is purely a guess, is they won't because Democrats had the pencils in their hands when new district lines were last drawn.

If Republicans don't win at the ballot box Tuesday, flipping the House post-election by persuading a handful of conservative Democratic representatives to switch parties remains a very real possibility. Few Kentucky politicians I've observed rival Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo's ability to thrive in chaos, confusion and conflict and emerge as a survivor. But if the Democrats' current 54-46 majority narrows by even one or two votes Tuesday, his survival instincts could be put to their greatest test ever in the days leading up to the January opening of the 2015 General Assembly.

No question exists about which party will control the state Senate after this election. The only unknown concerns the size of the Republican majority, which was originally created by party-switching Democrats and which has controlled the redistricting pencils ever since.

In Kentucky's only remotely competitive U.S. House race, Democrat Elisabeth Jensen continues to take the fight to first-term incumbent 6th District Republican Rep. Andy Barr. However, a Jensen victory would qualify as the miracle of this election cycle. But even if she loses, her hard work and admirable performance in this race qualify her as a player in Democratic politics in Central Kentucky and beyond if that is her choice.

Speaking of Congressman Frankingstein, his answer to one of the "20 (playful) questions" the Herald-Leader asked of U.S. Senate, 6th Congressional District and Lexington mayoral candidates (responses published in the Oct. 26 edition) left me wondering whether the former member of former Gov. Ernie Fletcher's "Kiddie Korps" can tell time.

"Who is your favorite University of Kentucky basketball player of this century?" was the question. "Tony Delk," was Congressman Frankingstein's response.

Uh, Tony Delk didn't play at UK during this century. He was a senior member of the 1996 "Untouchables" NCAA championship team. So, Congressman Frankingstein, what part of "this century" don't you understand? And is your answer to this innocuous question indicative of the attention to detail you apply to issues of national consequence in Washington?

Since the previous Bluegrass Poll, McConnell has been ridiculed for paying the expenses for volunteers to show "enthusiasm" at stops on his bus tour while Grimes has been drawing thousands of unpaid enthusiastic supporters at rallies featuring former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who have been in Kentucky often enough in this campaign to establish residency.

McConnell also took a hit for having a Pennsylvania resident pass herself off as a Kentucky woman in an ad touting his alleged support among females. He made the mistake of mentioning his efforts at privatizing Social Security during a speech to the Louisville Rotary Club, which prompted a devastating ad from the Democratic Senate Majority PAC. And he loaned his campaign $1.8 million, a clear sign he was scared for his political life.

Still, all the experts, gurus and hotshot know-it-alls expect him to win. And the latest Bluegrass Poll suggests they could be right. All of which tells me the central theme of the 2014 Republican narrative, the one subliminally repeated in the vast majority of pro-GOP ads we've seen on our TVs for months and months, the racist mantra that a vote for a Democrat at any level of government is a vote for a black president, is working in Kentucky. How sad. How embarrassing for Kentucky.

But this nightmare ends Tuesday evening. And we can all enjoy at least one night of peaceful rest before the long (very long) nightmare of the 2015 gubernatorial campaign begins in earnest Wednesday. Depending on Tuesday's outcome, we could see some new players get into that game very quickly.

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

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