Democrats Assail McConnell At Annual Dinner

Jun 7, 2013

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Kentucky Democrats still don't have a champion to challenge Republican Mitch McConnell, but they made him the target of their dinnertime verbal jabs Thursday night.

They flung rhetorical barbs at the U.S. Senate minority leader they hope to oust in next year's election during their annual Wendell Ford Dinner in Louisville.

One potential Democratic opponent, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, charged that McConnell has put his own interests ahead of those of Kentucky during his five terms in office.

"Kentucky is tired of 28 years of obstruction," Grimes said.

Several other Democratic heavyweights took turns calling for McConnell's defeat, including Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville, who said he has made it his top priority to topple Kentucky's longest serving U.S. senator in history.

Yarmuth drew boisterous applause when he told some 500 of the Democratic faithful gathered inside Louisville's Crowne Point Hotel that it's his job to tell them "10, 20, 30 times a day" that they need to "get rid of Mitch McConnell."

The $100-per-plate dinner doubles as a fundraiser and a rallying point ahead of the Senate race.

Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway said polls show McConnell vulnerable after five terms in office because he has been unwilling to put partisan politics aside to do what's right for the country.

"Mitch McConnell has become emblematic of what's wrong with Washington," Conway said.

McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton brushed aside the Democratic rhetoric.

"Mitch is focused on fighting for Kentucky, not the complaining of liberal partisans," Benton said.

Grimes is considering taking on McConnell, though she has not said when she will announce her decision. Conway called on Democrats to be patient while she makes up her mind.

"I know there are a lot of people eagle to hear something from her," Conway said. "She's going about the process in the right way."

Several other Democrats also have been eyeing the Senate race, including former Miss America Heather French Henry, a Louisville clothing designer and wife of former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry.

Former Democratic Party Chairman Bill Garmer and environmental attorney Tom FitzGerald have also said they may run.

Actress Ashley Judd, a former Kentucky resident, had considered a run but decided against it earlier this year.

"I will guarantee you that we will have a candidate," Yarmuth said. "And I suspect that maybe that candidate is in the room tonight."

Defeating McConnell would be the Democrats' biggest prize of the 2014 election. His seat is one of 14 that Republicans are defending while Democrats try to hold onto 21, hoping to retain or add to their 55-45 edge.

McConnell, who has served in the U.S. Senate since 1984 and is seeking a sixth term, has raised nearly $13 million for his re-election campaign. He has never lost an election. He spent more than $20 million in 2008 to beat Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford, a wealthy Louisville businessman, by 6 percentage points.

Kentucky Republican Party spokeswoman Kelsey Cooper charged that Democratic insiders are intent on attacking McConnell rather than offering solutions.

"The attacks are clearly a distraction from the fact that the party is badly in disarray and still without a candidate for the 2014 senate race," Cooper said.