It was a beautiful dream. In late September, Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes seemed positioned to unseat Republican minority leader and Koch lackey Mitch McConnell. After heavy rotation of this ad, wherein a shotgun-totin’ Grimes takes dead aim at a clay pigeon, declares her independence of the extremely unpopular (in Kentucky anyway) President Obama, and mocks McConnell’s evident lack of familiarity with firearms, Grimes held a 2 point lead according to a Louisville Courier-Journal poll released on October 10.
Now, I didn’t like the ad one bit. In my view, Grimes committed a cardinal sin by opening with the statement: “I am not Barack Obama.” George Lakoff could have told her that when you tell somebody not to think of an elephant, the first thing they do is think of an elephant. Even worse, I thought, than linking the regionally despised President’s name to her own, Grimes failed to connect McConnell’s votes in the Senate to the economic privations of many blue grass state voters. But I was wrong – if the Courier-Journal’s early October poll is to be believed.
Two polls released since then, however, show a resurgent McConnell. This past Friday, Rasmussen Reports showed McConnell up by 8 points and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee may have decided not to buy additional ad time in on Grimes’ behalf. What happened? Simply put, Grimes ran into a media buzzsaw.
On Thursday October 9 Grimes refused to tell the Louisville Courier Journal whether she voted for President Obama in the 2008 and 2012 general elections. The interview was live-streamed. I first learned of this “game-changer” Friday morning while listening to the Bill Press Show. Progressive Press was interviewing a reporter from the center-right Politico website. Host and guest agreed that Grimes had made a terrible gaffe that could cost her the election. That same morning Chuck Todd told Joe Sarborough on MSNBC that Grimes’s non-answer was “potentially disqualifying”.
Before even checking out the video, I bought the hype and was convinced that Grimes had likely fumbled away any chance to unseat McConnell. It turns out I may have been right but for the wrong reasons. In fact, when I finally saw it, I was surprised and pleased to hear a poised confident Grimes answer that she was a Clinton democrat, as Kentuckians well knew since she had served as a delegate for Hillary at the 2008 Democratic Presidential Convention. Without missing a beat, Grimes continued that although Mitch McConnell might want the election to be a referendum on President Obama it was not. Finally, after being repeatedly pressed, an understandably exasperated Grimes explained the concept of the secret ballot to the Courier-Journal editor.
My sense was that Grimes had artfully dodged a bullet. The McConnell campaign desperately wants to connect her to the President but now it could not run ads in which Grimes said yes she had voted for President Obama. Moreover, I felt, anybody who watched the video would come away impressed with Grimes.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it turned out. Throughout the corporate media, condemnations rained down on Grimes for not admitting that she had voted for Obama. It did not occur to Press, MSNBC, Politico, or the Washington Post, that Grimes, like many other Kentucky democrats, might have voted for Clinton in the 2008 primary but for Obama’s Republican opponent that year and in 2012. Moreover, the media refused to credit Grimes for refusing either to submit to an improper question or give McConnell an obvious sound clip to use against her. Finally, no mainstream news outlet has pointed out the irrelevant nature of this inquiry.
Denied the opportunity to run a political advertisement showing Grimes admitting she voted for the President, McConnell’s team simply crafted a spot containing quotes from newspaper and television reporters over video clips from the Courier-Journal interview. The ad cleverly, but falsely, implies that the Courier-Journal’s questions discomfited Grimes. Since the Courier-Journal interview, Grimes has seen her lead evaporate and her odds of claiming McConnell’s senate seat lengthen.
The media certainly deserves censure for focusing unduly on Grimes refusal to say whether she voted for Obama in the 2008 and 2012 general election. But what about Grimes? In retrospect, she may indeed have sunk her own ship. While she (and I) may have thought her response to the Courier-Journal was appropriate, even astute, she failed to account for the media feeding frenzy that followed. That failure may cost her the election and Kentuckians of a Senator who will put their interests first.