LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- As Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes mulls whether to challenge U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in 2014, the Kentucky Republican Party is eager to cast doubts on Grimes' potential candidacy, calling it "a last ditch effort to recruit a candidate of even second-tier credibility" and questioning whether other Democrats have ulterior motives.
Sources close to Grimes, however, are dismissing the critique as evidence that Republicans fear taking on the first term office-holder and tell WHAS11 News that Grimes is the only potential candidate to be approached by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee after one-time Senate hopeful Ashley Judd approached national Democrats yet subsequently removed her name from consideration.
"Practically every in-state Democrat has called upon her to challenge Sen. (Mitch) McConnell, after passing on the opportunity themselves," said Kelsey Cooper, Communications Director for the Republican Party of Kentucky (RPK). "But it brings to question – why her? And could they just be serving their own political interests by pushing her into this highly contentious race?"
Yet Democrats suggest the buzz around Grimes' potential Senate candidacy indicates her strength as a candidate rather than a weak field.
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway told WHAS11 on Wednesday that Grimes has a lot of options, including as his or another Democrat's running mate in the 2015 governor's race.
"I think she would be an attractive running mate for anyone," Conway said, "and is an attractive candidate. She has a lot of options. She could run for the senate, she could run for Congress, she could potentially run for Attorney General, she could run for reelection. I could see her being a governor herself down the road, someday," Conway said.
One of several other potential Democratic candidates for attorney general is Andrew Beshear. His father, Governor Steve Beshear, has met with Grimes and at least two other possible Senate candidates.
"I hope she'll jump into the (senate) race," Beshear told WHAS11 on Wednesday. "I think we can win."
Yet if Grimes decides not to run for Senate, the governor said he hopes the ongoing discussions will produce "a good, strong candidate."
In a May 2 interview with WHAS11, Grimes said McConnell's own actions have prompted her to consider entering the senate race. She added she is being recruited by both national and local Democrats.
"I won't be bullied into any decision," Grimes told WHAS11. "I will tell you that the bully tactics that we see displayed are a continuation of those exemplified in the recording that has surfaced by Mitch McConnell. And this Kentucky woman won't be bullied."
Cooper said the real question seems to be, "who’s really doing this supposed bullying?"
"(Grimes) is still very much on the fence about running. So it’s no wonder that she’s feeling the pressure from not only national Democrats but also ones in state," Cooper said.
Though Grimes made clear her "bullying" comments were aimed at McConnell and not fellow Democrats, Conway, the 2010 Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, acknowledged that Grimes is being pressured.
"A lot of people are pressuring her right now to look at this race against Sen. McConnell," he said. "And all I've tried to do for Alison in this process is say, 'I went through his process a few years ago,' and be a resource for her and help her get the right information as she makes a decision. And then I'll sit down and talk with her about her future and others' future down the road."
Cooper suggested that Grimes may be afraid the Kentucky Democratic Party won't be able to raise enough money to adequately support a Senate campaign and that national Democrats may be using her to make McConnell spend his massive war-chest in Kentucky rather than him helping Republicans in other races across the country and for the Kentucky General Assembly.
"It also looks terrible for the DSCC (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) if she’s the 11th pick to bite the dust in this race," Cooper said. "Can they really not come up with a viable candidate to represent the Democratic Party?"
Sources close to Grimes, however, say the DSCC has only spoken to two potential candidates and that while Ashley Judd approached them, Grimes was approached by the DSCC.