LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Warning that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a "genius" at running no-holds-barred campaigns, former President Bill Clinton told donors at a luncheon fundraiser that Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes can't win if she gets into a street fight with Kentucky's longest serving U.S. Senator.
Clinton, a close friend of Grimes' father, Jerry Lundergan, spoke for about twenty minutes Tuesday afternoon before about 1200 people at the Galt House Hotel in downtown Louisville.
"When Alison got in this race, we talked about it," Clinton recalled. "I said, your opponent is a genius at that ladder course. He's skated a couple of elections here doing that. You can't beat that. You've got to beat it with this."
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Clinton held up a copy of Grimes' "jobs plan," a 20 page booklet of proposed policy initiatives ranging from tax credits for businesses which provide child-care for employees to a $2.85 per hour hike in the minimum wage.
"I've studied this hard," Clinton said, waving the booklet. "This is a good plan. But the most important thing is, it's the plan of a person who will go to Washington and say, 'What are your ideas?'"
"When someone comes out with a plan like this and says to you, 'This is the best I can do right now, maybe Ill be able to do better if I get elected, maybe you'll have an idea, maybe you'll give me something, this is an expression of trust in the people of Kentucky."
"He says he's read it, but I'm not so sure," said McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton. "President Clinton is a smart guy and if he has read it, he would realize that this jobs plan is full of retread old ideas from past administrations and actually a lot of stuff that's already been enacted into law and championed by Sen. McConnell."
Grimes said her campaign had worried about how they would be able to fill hundreds of seats for the luncheon because of only a two-week notice after Clinton's appearance was confirmed.
The 1200 donors contributed more than $600,000, according to a Grimes' spokeswoman. Admission ranged from $100 per person to $5200, the maximum contribution allowed by law.
Clinton is the last Democrat to win a race for federal office in Kentucky.
"Kentucky is Clinton Country!" Grimes exclaimed to a raucous cheer.
Grimes blamed McConnell for Washington gridlock.
"He is out of touch, he is out of ideas and come November with your help and support, he will be out of time!" Grimes said.
"I'm not so sure that this is going to help Alison so much," countered Benton. "Mitch McConnell has been kicking Bill Clinton's butt in Kentucky here for about 20 years."
Welcoming Clinton back to Kentucky, Grimes recalled welcoming him to Washington the day prior to his first inauguration in 1993
"My sisters and I were at the base of the Lincoln Memorial," Grimes said. At the end of the fundraiser, her nieces and nephews recreated the scene, presenting roses to Grimes and Clinton.
Grimes was 14 years old in 1993. Mitch McConnell had already been in the Senate for eight years.
"The country was ready for a new fresh Southern face versus the old, Washington been-there-too-long part-of-the-problem, an institution," Grimes paused. "Sound familiar?"
Apart from the cash haul, the event provided her campaign images of Grimes next to the 42nd president rather than with the 44th president, Barack Obama, who the McConnell campaign is eager to link to the first term Secretary of State.
"Alison is trying to run as this fresh faced new candidate, when really she's running a lot of retread old ideas," Benton said. "ideas from past administrations, Bill Clinton, Harry Reid. Whereas, Mitch McConnell is running on fresh new ideas that are going to move the country forward."
Though the day belonged to Grimes, Clinton's most effusive praise was saved for Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and his full embrace of the Affordable Care Act implementation.
"I'm just telling you what works everywhere in the world today is the same thing your governor did on this health care issue," Clinton said. "Okay, here's an option to give people access to affordable health care, bring the cost of health care down, make Kentucky more competitive, improve family life for people. And, is it perfect? No. What I am going to do? I'm going to work to do the best I can with it."
Clinton suggested that Beshear's decision to fully participate in the federal health care expansion is an example of how Grimes would also lead.
"In the end that's really what Alison has done," Clinton said, "you send me to Washington and I'll do something that makes sense and if there's a problem with it, I'll fix it. And the other choice is to just, pout."
Clinton warned the crowd of the bruising battle ahead, much of it to be played out in television ads from both campaigns and third party groups.
"The most damaging effect of such ads is probably to discourage people to just say 'I'll think I'll stay home,'" Clinton said. "so that you get really ideological people instead of practical people to the polls."