When Alison Lundergan Grimes began interrupting Mitch McConnell last night in the first and only debate in the Kentucky Senate contest, it became clear, if it hadn’t already, that she just could possibly win this race.
“I hate to interrupt,” Grimes said toward the end of the nearly one-hour debate, and went on to mock one of McConnell’s most frequent verbal tics. “But ‘under this administration’?—we’ve used that ‘this administration’ over and over again. Senator McConnell fails to see he has a role in all the jobs that have been lost in this state.”
It didn’t matter so much what she interrupted him about. The point was to show that she could dominate and rattle the Senate minority leader.
And she did. When it came time for the two candidates’ closing statements, McConnell was reduced to bragging that in a recent poll, “congressional staffers” had voted him the Senate’s hardest-working member. It was so stiflingly inside-the-Beltway that, should he lose, it could serve as his political epitaph.
Grimes still has an uphill fight, of course, and McConnell is up by four points in the latest poll, from Fox. But in last night’s debate, Grimes came off so strong and McConnell was so droning that it could possibly drown out her embarrassing refusal to say whether or not she voted for Obama, who’s more unpopular in the state than even the widely disliked Mitch.
But her ridiculous politician’s spin on that—claiming she wouldn’t answer because “our Constitution here in Kentucky grants the right to privacy at the ballot box”—is less ridiculous and much less consequential to Kentuckians than Mitch’s refusal to say what he really means when he vows to repeal Obamacare “root and branch.” The state’s version of the Affordable Care Act, Kynect, is hugely successful, and Mitch was as slippery as a wet doorknob last night. “That’s fine,” he said. “I think it’s fine to have a website. Yeah.”
As if the website portal to Obamacare isn’t itself a major root. As Talking Points Memo points out:
If Obamacare is repealed, then the federal subsidies for the coverage expansion would disappear and Kentucky would either have to strip that insurance for recent recipients or foot the large bill through the state’s budget.….
Grimes torched “the fictional fantasy land that Mitch McConnell is in” on Obamacare, saying that she would keep the law and tweak aspects of it, such as by extending the “grandfathering” clause so as to let individuals keep insurance policies deemed substandard by Obamacare rules.
She said more than half a million Kentuckians have benefited from the health care law—she didn’t use the word Obamacare—and promised that “I will not be a senator that rips that insurance from their hand.”
Grimes came across equally strong and McConnell equally out of touch on other subjects—from minimum wage (she called it a living wage; he wrongly maintained that it’s mostly for entry-level young workers) to student loans (she supports the Elizabeth Warren proposal to reduce student loan debt by taxing the rich; he says that would crush this generation’s children’s children and blah blah blah).
And although they both tried to out-coal each other, she accepts man-made climate change and is at least making noises about protecting miners from black lung, while he cited “George Will [who] wrote recently that back in ’70s a lot of scientists thought we were moving towards an ice age.”
Again and again, she seemed to have more energy and was easier to listen to. His voice, on the other hand, tended to recede, as if pitched through the tunnel of his thirty years in Washington, a tenure she repeatedly bemoaned.
Many in the mainstream media had to allow that Grimes had the stronger performance. But they wouldn’t quite give it to her. For them, more important than the candidates’ stances on healthcare or shutting down the government was her tactical refusal to admit she voted for Obama.
It obscures her “otherwise” very “strong performance,” The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza said today on Andrea Mitchell’s MSNBC show.
But it is of course media people like Cillizza, and the guy he’d sometimes sub for on The Daily Rundown, Chuck Todd, who largely determine what obscures what.
Mitch McConnell liked so much what Todd said about Grimes’s dodge—that it “disqualified” her—that he made an ad out of it.