FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Sen. Elizabeth Warren is coming to Kentucky to campaign with Alison Lundergan Grimes about reducing college student loan debt in a U.S. Senate race that has so far been dominated by coal.
Grimes announced Thursday a series of campaign events with the Democratic senator from Massachusetts designed to criticize Republican incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell for blocking a bill that would have allowed some of Kentucky's 588,000 college students to refinance their federal student loans. Details of the stops were not available, but the campaign said in a news release they would include stops with college students.
"Unlike Mitch McConnell who votes against helping students at every turn, Alison Lundergan Grimes will stand up for every Kentuckian who dreams of obtaining a college degree," Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst said in a news release.
McConnell and most Senate Republicans voted to block the bill because it would have also set minimum tax rates on people who make more than $1 million. That's why the Grimes campaign sees it as an opportunity to continue to attack McConnell on pocketbook issues - much like the minimum wage increase, which has been a key part of the Kentucky Secretary of State's campaign.
With more than 588,000 Kentucky college students facing federal student loans totaling more than $13.4 billion, Grimes characterized McConnell's vote as one "against our middle class families."
"Senator McConnell's blatant disregard for the hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians crushed by student loan debt is deeply disconcerting," Grimes said in a news release.
But Jena Patterson, chairwoman of the Kentucky Federation of College Republicans, pointed out that McConnell supported a bipartisan compromise on reducing student loan interest rates in 2013 - one that Warren opposed.
"His vote against Sen. Warren's bill proves that he is willing to fight for real reform, not just liberal Democrat talking points in an election year," she said.
Grimes' announcement comes during a campaign that has largely focused on the state's coal industry in the weeks since May primaries. Grimes launched an advertising campaign in Eastern Kentucky re-enforcing her opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency's new emission standards for coal-fired power plants. And she decried President Barack Obama's "war on coal" in her primary night election speech, promising to be a fierce opponent to his energy policies.
But she has faced withering criticism from McConnell for ignoring the coal industry in a speech during a Washington fundraiser last week with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Wednesday, the campaign trotted out a Republican state senator and a Democratic mayor - both from coal mining counties - to say they don't trust Grimes after she has promised to use the fundraiser to demand Senate action on clean coal technology.
"To say she understand coal is a little bit offensive and flat out insulting to see her standing down there with the likes of Harry Reid," Republican state Sen. Brandon Smith said.
The Grimes campaign said Grimes had a private conversation with Reid about coal. And Reid said Grimes has spoken to him many times about the issue.