ABC News’ Michael Falcone and Shushannah Walshe report:
It’s clear that the most salacious details of the leaked Mitch McConnell campaign tape focus on what one McConnell campaign aide described as the “wealth of material” they were able to dig up on Ashley Judd. It’s also clear that none of it will be of much use after Judd announced last month she would not be running in 2014.
Worth noting, however, is the comparatively meager body of opposition research McConnell staffers gathered on the Kentucky politician who appears most likely to challenge the Senate Majority Leader — Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
In fact, the aide leading the secretly-taped strategy session suggested researchers were struggling to find ammunition with which to attack Grimes, comparing finding dirt on her to searching for “needle in a haystack.”
“The best hit we have on her is her blatantly endorsing the 2008 Democratic national platform,” the aide said during the Feb. 2 meeting at McConnell campaign headquarters.
Grimes’s relatively low name recognition in the state (recent polls have found only about half of Kentuckians know who she is) may be a disadvantage, but her relatively short time in public life (she began her term as secretary of state in 2012) could also be an asset for the 34-year-old lawyer. Still, Grimes comes from a well-connected political family: Her father was a former state party chairman and her family has close ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
McConnell’s campaign team was evidently planning to link her to the 2008 Democratic Party platform, which she supported, as well as President Obama, who she publicly backed in 2012. Even though Kentucky is a red state, neither move seems particularly surprising for Grimes.
But, as was the case with the Republican campaign’s research on Judd, which identified the actress’s mental health challenges and religious beliefs as potential vulnerabilities, McConnell’s team appeared similarly interested in Grimes’s quirks.
“If you see a lot of footage of her, she definitely has a very sort of self-centered, sort of egotistical aspect,” one aide said. “She’s very sort of a, sort of it’s all about her, the theme that I would call this. And this is sort of an example about this. She uses her, like in speeches, she’ll frequently use herself in the third person.”
Indeed, Grimes has referred to herself in the third person at campaign events (a parody video has been circulating on the Internet) although it is unclear what practical effect that would have on voters in a Senate race.
Dale Emmons, a Kentucky Democratic operative and adviser to Grimes, said the early glimpse at the McConnell campaign’s playbook should do nothing to discourage her from entering the race.
“If this is how small his thinking is, if this is how they begin their campaign planning, it should tell us a whole lot,” Emmons told ABC News.
As recently as last weekend, however, Grimes said she was undecided.
“I don’t know what the next step is for me,” Grimes told a crowd at a Democratic fundraising dinner in Bardstown, Ky., according to a local news report.
Politically, Emmons said, “there wasn’t really that much of a surprise” to the issues the Republican strategists raised about Grimes in the recording, which was leaked to Mother Jones. But if she does run, there is little doubt McConnell would employ the same take-no-prisoners strategy he has used against other opponents. (On the tape, the five-term Kentucky senator can be heard comparing the early months of a campaign to a game of “Whac-A-Mole.”)
“It’s typical of Mitch McConnell,” Emmons said. “He guts his opponents and watches them bleed out.”