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In case you didn't know, the big dog is playing a role in the 2014 Kentucky U.S. Senate race:

Move over Ashley Judd. Bill Clinton is reportedly courting another Democrat for the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky.

The former President has quietly approached Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2014, Politico reported.

Clinton, a friend of Grimes’ father, reportedly told the 34-year-old during a private meeting this month that he and Hillary Clinton would support her candidacy if she threw her hat in the ring.

Kentucky Democratic sources also told Politico that Grimes has met with officials from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. - New York Daily News, 3/20/13

Clinton spoke privately with Grimes at a private event in honor of former Senator Wendell Ford (D. KY) about jumping into this race earlier this month.  Why is Clinton getting involved in this race and pushing for Grimes to enter the Democratic primary?  So Kentucky Democrats can have options:

At the very least, Democrats like Clinton are making sure Judd is cut out for politics, as the two-year runway gets shorter, and fast. Hence their courtship of Grimes, who comes from an established Kentucky family with strong ties to the state's Democratic firmament. Before, state Democrats had been casting about for simply a viable alternative. Judd's fame, both as an actress and philanthropist, would radically change the equation of challenging McConnell, who has clearly mastered the art of being re-elected, despite his unpopularity. Now they're looking at a big-time local Democrat just in case.

At the same time — as Politico's report makes pretty clear — Democrats are quite wary of speaking to Judd outright, of persuading her to stay out of the race. To a certain degree this wariness makes sense: Judd would likely trounce any challenger in the Democratic primary, based simply on her own name recognition and the injection of cash that would afford. And she has a well-documented habit of speaking her mind, especially when she feels wronged in some way.

The election, of course, is two years out, but even now it looks like Democrats may not enjoy the sort of campaign they were hoping for: a pure referendum on McConnell's political legacy, and the strife he has been party to in the nation's capital. Part of that has to do with Judd, who is vulnerable, no matter what, to attack ads. But so would anyone else — including Grimes. Remember, McConnell's camp isn't afraid to sling mud. So the Democrats, and Judd herself, have to decide who they think can take it, and maybe even throw it back. - The Atlantic, 3/20/13

Now I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking Clinton is trying to pull a Karl Rove and persuade an anti-establishment early on out of running for office.  Well he's not:

ABC News reports the former president has talked to Ashley Judd and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes about running for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky.

The story, citing unnamed sources in the state, reports Clinton "expressed encouragement" to both women and was not picking one over the other. He reportedly promised to help Judd and Lundergan Grimes if they became candidates.

"President Clinton fully intends to support the Democratic nominee in this race," spokesman Matt McKenna told ABC News. - USA Today, 3/22/13

I'll be writing a long diary soon about the pros and cons of a Judd candidacy.  Right now, I'm neutral on the idea of Judd running against McConnell but I am glad that Clinton is working encouraging both Grimes and Judd to run and give Kentucky Democrats options.  There's valid arguments on both sides for a Judd candidacy:

“It’s my personal, professional judgment that [Judd] places others on the ballot in peril if some of the fears … come to fruition,” said Dale Emmons, a Kentucky Democratic campaign operative of more than two decades and a Grimes ally. “She places these people at risk by a weak performance on the ballot in this midterm election.”

“I think Alison has the pulse of the Kentucky voters,” said Nathan Smith, a onetime vice chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party. “While I think Ashley Judd is a great Kentuckian, I don’t know if she has the pulse of the voters in Kentucky.”

Indeed, some prominent Kentucky Democrats plainly fear that an unsteady performance by Judd could even cause Democrats to lose their power in the state House — the only remaining lower chamber in the South where their party still retains majority control. They worry that Judd’s liberal politics, her strong views against certain coal-mining practices and her current residency in Tennessee all would be too difficult to overcome.

“I think what Alison’s candidacy brings is a focus on McConnell’s record, where if Ashley Judd is our candidate, I think it muddles the residency argument that I think we want to make against McConnell — that he’s really not so much about Kentucky anymore as he is about Washington,” said Adam Edelen, the state auditor elected in 2011 on the same ticket as Grimes. “Unfortunately, I think Ms. Judd’s residency could potentially confuse that argument.”

Some of Judd’s defenders argue that Grimes would hardly be able to match her widespread name recognition — a major boon against an incumbent of nearly three decades. They say Judd would quickly be able to raise a mountain of cash, energize the Democratic base like few others and have a huge media platform that would allow her to put McConnell back on his heels. Judd’s long-standing ties to the state — as an eighth-generation Kentuckian and an ever-present fan at Kentucky Wildcats basketball games — should eliminate any concern over carpetbagging, her allies say.

“I don’t think anybody in Kentucky has felt the excitement on the national level that Ashley Judd’s candidacy would bring,” said Rep. John Yarmuth from Louisville, who has emerged as the most prominent public proponent of Judd’s candidacy. “I think many people in Kentucky are thinking about it in very conventional terms, and I don’t think it will be a conventional race.”

Yarmuth added: “[Grimes’s] candidacy would be more of a conventional candidacy; she’s not going to get $20 million of free media.”

“If Ashley runs, I don’t know why [Grimes] would risk a very promising future where she has all sorts of options open to her to take on Ashley Judd in a primary for Senate,” Yarmuth said. “She’s young. She’s got all sorts of time. I can’t see her taking that risk.” - Politico, 3/19/13

It;s understandable why Clinton and the Ketnucky Democratic establishment would like to see Grimes run for Senate.  She's smart, young, popular and she too has defied the party establishment when she beat Governor Steve Beshear's (D. KY) choice for Secretary of State in the 2011 primary.  Her father, Jerry Lundergan, is a former state party chairman with a great connection with Kentucky's unions and helped deliver Kentucky for Clinton in 1992 and 1996.  Not to mention that Grimes has been working hard to make voting easier for Kentucky voters:

As Kentucky Democrats make a last-minute push to allow U.S. military personnel overseas to vote online, Florida is reporting what appears to be the first case of someone trying to manipulate U.S. voting through the Internet.

A Miami-Dade County grand jury report reveals Internet requests from computers in locations such as Ireland, England and India sought more than 2,500 absentee ballots during the primary election last August.

The report said officials blocked the ballots from going out when they saw “an extraordinary number” of ballot requests from the same group of computers.

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said her proposal for Kentucky differs from the Florida system, which didn’t require users to sign in with a password.

“That example isn’t applicable to what Kentucky is trying to do,” Grimes said.

But Candice Hoke, a law professor and director of the Center For Election Integrity at Cleveland State University in Ohio, said the Florida case shows that Internet voting is a potential target and that there may have been other attempts to manipulate the voting that haven’t been uncovered.

The battle over Senate Bill 1, the military voting bill, has largely become a Republican-versus-Democrat issue as Democrat Grimes and House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, support it.

The bill is supported by military families and veterans groups.

Grimes said she has been working with Senate leaders on a potential compromise to allow Internet voting or, at the very least, extend the voting period for a few days to allow votes straggling in late to still be counted. - Louisville Courier-Journal, 3/21/13

McConnell has been spending big on attack ads to discourage Judd from running which is a clear sign that McConnell is scared of her and is in serious trouble.  But McConnell's team is also scared of Grimes and is trying to discourage her from running as well:
“Why would [Grimes] take on this race?” said Billy Piper, a former McConnell chief of staff. “She could run for a state office with little opposition or run against McConnell and endure $30 million in career-ending advertising and end up like Dee Huddleston, Harvey Sloane and Lois Weinberg. Who are those people you ask? Exactly.” - Politico, 3/19/13
Grimes is also an outspoken supporter of President Obama and is also thinking about running for Governor in 2015.  

Getting rid of McConnell won't be an easy task.  Democrats and the Tea Party are eager to get rid of McConnell and the Tea Party is working on getting wealthy businessman Matt Bevin (R) to challenge McConnell in the GOP primary:

Before the news leaked that Louisville Tea Party officials had talked with Bevin about a possible Senate run, little was known about Bevin outside business circles.
Of course, avid Business First readers likely know more about Bevin, the former owner of Integrity Asset Management. He sold that firm in 2011.

I first met Bevin in 2006, when I was working on a story about another asset-management firm and wanted to know more about the industry. I learned that he was a high-profile executive in institutional investment circles, having worked for years at the former National Asset Management before starting his own firm.

Bevin, who I profiled in 2008, quietly has made a big impact on the community over the years, investing in small firms such as Golden Rule Sign Co. and Neuronetrix. He also is a partner in Louisville hedge fund Waycross Partners LLC and is a former chairman of the board of American Red Cross, Louisville Area chapter.

“I am sort of like my own private-equity firm,” he told me recently. “I like to put seeds in the ground.” - Ed Green from Business First, 3/20/13

Bevin, like Judd, can certainly fund his own campaign and an expensive GOP primary would hurt McConnell whether he wins his party's nomination or loses it.  But we can't depend solely on the Tea Party to bail us out on this race and we can't wait forever on Judd to make up her mind.  I'm not sure who the right candidate for Team Blue is but I'm happy to see Bill Clinton take an interest in this race.  We'll see how far his influence goes.

Originally posted to pdc on Fri Mar 22, 2013 at 02:05 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.


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