Grimes chides McConnell, campaign explains debate conflict


by Joe Arnold

Posted on September 4, 2014 at 6:10 PM

Updated Friday, Sep 5 at 12:03 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- In a new line of attack on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes on Thursday referenced a secretly recorded McConnell speech revealed last week.

"We have a senator that just doesn't want to give 'gosh darn' credence to the proposals that actually might help our students afford college and get degrees not debt," Grimes said during remarks to Louisville's Downtown Rotary Club, alluding to McConnell telling a group of wealthy, conservative donors that if he was Senate majority leader, he would not debate "gosh darn" proposals such as raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, and lowering interest rates on student loans.

"You're in public service to try to make a difference, not just to get self promotions," Grimes told the swelled crowd of about 300 people in a Galt House Hotel ballroom.

"I wouldn't be here today if not for my work with victims of domestic violence," Grimes said, describing her calling to serve in public office.

Grimes touted accomplishments in her first term as Kentucky's Secretary of State, in particular efforts modernize and standardize business forms and improve access to the ballot box for military serving overseas.

"I come before you today wearing many different hats," Grimes said as she transitioned to a campaign speech.  "Most women do."

In a departure from Rotary Club custom, Grimes did not take questions from the audience.  The Rotary Club Executive Director, Debe Skidmore, said the "Grimes team" had requested no question and answer session.

Grimes, however, did speak members of the media after the event, addressing questions on lease payments for her campaign bus, the resignation of McConnell's campaign manager, U.S. plans to combat Islamic militants and why she did not agree to debate McConnell on the date he accepted.

After last week's agreement by McConnell to debate Grimes on September 5, the Grimes campaign declined, citing a long-standing commitment at her alma mater in Tennessee. 

But the Rhodes College political science department employee handling RSVP's for a "Welcome Reception" with Grimes and students on Friday afternoon told WHAS11 the event had just been lined up "within the last week."

Grimes would only say that she had had commitments to the Rhodes College president for "quite some time."

A Grimes campaign aide later explained that Grimes will be attending a series of events and meetings at Rhodes College on Friday, including the reception reported by WHAS11.  The aide said planning for the events began in July through the office of the college president, William Troutt.

"Look, I look forward to debating Sen. McConnell," Grimes said when asked about the conflict.  "He chose one of multiple dates I believe that WHAS has provided because he knew that we had a long standing conflict, and I look forward to holding him accountable for the promises to the millionaires and billionaires to put them instead of hard working Kentuckians first."

"And I hope if he is really serious about debating," Grimes continued, "he won't play games with WHAS.  He'll sit down like my team continues to be ready and willing and find a date that works."
Grimes was asked whether her campaign is still using its campaign bus or has changed the payments to her father's company which owns the bus amid questions the campaign is receiving an illegal discount.

"Our compliance team, I've asked them to review and re-review and I'm assured that everything that the campaign can do on their end, has been done," Grimes replied.  "And if Mitch McConnell cared half as much about creating jobs in this state as he does where our campaign bus is, perhaps we'd be better off."

A campaign spokeswoman later confirmed that the campaign bus remains in use.

Though Grimes said McConnell still has questions to answer after last week's resignation of his campaign manager, Jesse Benton, she declined to answer a reporter's question if she is alleging any criminal activity by Benton, either in Kentucky or in Iowa.  A former Iowa state senator admitted last week to accepting a $73,000 payment in exchange for his endorsement of Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign.  Benton was chairman of that campaign, has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged in the case.

"Well, I think that there are very serious charges that have been raised and Kentuckians across the commonwealth, myself included, have questions for Sen. McConnell that he is going to have to answer," Grimes said.  "What he knew, when he knew it, why he reluctantly accepted the resignation of someone connected to a bribery scandal?"

One day after McConnell said President Barack Obama is "heading in the right direction" on military action to defeat Islamic militants, Grimes said the President and Congress need to "come forth with a credible plan" to defeat ISIS in Syria.

"I have been supportive of the limited air strikes, not supportive of introducing ground troops especially in Syria," Grimes explained.  "In Syria and Iraq, opposed to the introduction or reintroduction when it comes to Iraq of ground forces," Grimes said.  "Limited air strikes. I hope we can work with our allies and combat terrorist activity that's happened, hold those accountable that have harmed the United States."

Grimes is calling for swift justice to the ISIS terrorists who beheaded two American journalists.

Both she and McConnell say ISIS is a threat that could be carried out on U.S. soil.