LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- In a speech that inched her ever closer to the 2014 U.S. Senate race, Alison Lundergan Grimes asked Kentucky Democrats Thursday night to "stand united" over the coming months.
"My fellow Kentuckians, I ask you, based on tonight and in the coming months, will we send a message that Kentucky is ready for new leadership in Washington D.C.?" the first term Secretary of State said. "Let me hear you say yes!"
On the fence for months, Grimes asked Kentucky Democrats to say 'yes' to their commitment to beat Republican Senator Mitch McConnell in the 2014 U.S. Senate race, while withholding her own 'yes' to the question Democrats are waiting for her to answer.
"Kentucky is tired of 28 years of obstruction and misleading leadership," Grimes said to the applause of about 500 people at the Jefferson County Democratic Party's annual Wendell Ford Dinner. The event is estimated to have raised between $60,000 and $70,000 to be split between the local party and the Kentucky Democratic Party.
With most other prominent Democrats ruling themselves out of the race and after actress Ashley Judd removed her name from long-speculated consideration in March, Grimes has emerged as the leading Democratic contender.
Louisville music promoter Bennie J. Smith and Owensboro contractor Ed Marksberry have already announced their senate bids, yet neither has significant funding or communications with national campaign organizations.
Other Democrats who have acknowledged interest in the race include Miss America 2000 Heather French Henry, environmentalist Tom FitzGerald and Lexington attorney Bill Garmer, the former chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party.
"It's too early to say we got to have somebody because sometimes you can push somebody in that didn't have it in their heart," said Bill Ryan, Jefferson County Democratic Party Chairman. "And there's other people out there that maybe have the money and maybe want to run."
Grimes' comments come one week after Third District Congressman John Yarmuth said her prolonged decision is a disservice to the Democratic Party if she ends up not running.
"We will have a candidate," Yarmuth told the crowd, "and I suspect that maybe that candidate is in the room tonight."
Yarmuth argued that polls and McConnell's own actions indicate he is vulnerable.
"I can be really brief tonight and just say, 'Mitch McConnell sucks,' Yarmuth said to applause.
McConnell's campaign manager released a statement to WHAS11 after the dinner.
"Mitch is focused on fighting for Kentucky, not the bickering and complaining of liberal partisans," said Jesse Benton.
The last Kentucky Democrat to run for U.S. Senate, Attorney General Jack Conway (D-Ky), told the crowd that Grimes is "doing it the right way," and explained to reporters that she is asking all the right questions of the Democrats who want to push her into the race.
"When you're getting recruited by the DSCC and talking to senators up in Washington, they make you a lot of promises, and sometimes those promises aren't always kept," Conway said in an interview. "And so, Alison is doing the smart thing when they make a promise, she's saying 'Okay, really? Are you going to help me make the calls?' Because there's not enough money in Kentucky to take on Mitch McConnell. It's got to be a national fundraising effort."
Grimes exhibited a healthy knowledge of opposition research against McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader.
"What we are doing here tonight will send a message that Kentucky is ready to have a senator that puts the interests of Kentucky first instead of their own, as our senior senator has done in voting against raising the minimum wage but all the while in 28 years quadrupling his own net worth," Grimes said.
In what appears to be a precursor of the gender factor in the 2014 campaign, Grimes also cited McConnell's voting record on the Violence Against Women Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Paycheck Fairness Act. She also linked McConnell to other Republican politicians' controversial remarks, the "legitimate rape" comments of 2012 U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin and the statement this week by Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) blaming “hormones” for increased rates of sexual assault in the military.
Meanwhile, Grimes responded to a newspaper attack ad by the Kentuckians for Strong Leadership SuperPAC which concludes that when Grimes attacks McConnell for obstruction, "she's signaling to Washington liberals that she would rubber-stamp the Obama-Pelosi agenda that McConnell is defending Kentuckians from."
"There have been ads across the commonwealth that have questioned who this Kentucky woman listens to," Grimes said. She responded by saying she wears a WWWFD bracelet, for "What Would Wendell Ford Do."
"I will tell you that this Kentucky woman is listening to Kentucky, and from what I see we would benefit to have a senator in DC that did the same," Grimes said.
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden (D), the son of Vice President Joe Biden, was the keynote speaker at the dinner.