The Kentucky Senate race, likely to be the hottest — and possibly tightest — race in the country, has officially begun now that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes emerged as easy winners in Tuesday’s primaries.
Results show that 51,000 more Democrats went to the polls Tuesday, and Grimes got about 95,000 more votes than McConnell, who had to split the Republican vote with Bevin.
Even though Kentucky is seen as a red state, Democrats have a 54 percent registration advantage to 39 percent for registered Republicans.
McConnell may also be nervous because on Tuesday night he received the lowest percentage of the primary vote the Bluegrass State’s last 22 incumbent senators have ever pulled in.
It’s all welcome news for Grimes this morning and a message to McConnell that he will need every one of those Bevin voters to show up.
Grimes has been able to save most of her fire while watching McConnell and Bevin brawl so now that the race is truly on what can Grimes learn from Bevin?
1. Have a Thick Skin
Grimes comes from a political family, something McConnell pointed out last night when he said she has been “practicing party politics since she learned to talk.” So it’s possible she may already have a thick skin, but it often seemed during the primary that Bevin did not. He at times looked like candidate whiner when he complained McConnell was going too negative. That’s something Grimes should not do.
“A big thing is to learn how to handle criticism,” professor of political science at the University of Kentucky Stephen Voss told ABC News. “I don’t think she’s naïve. She’s seen her father (Jerry Lundergan) in action.”
Lundergan is a friend of the Clinton family and a former Kentucky Democratic Party chairman.
2. When You Make a Mistake, Stick to One Excuse
Between “Bailout Bevin” or the candidate who couldn’t explain his way out of a cockfighting match, Bevin fumbled through excuses when errors popped up in his campaign. All campaigns make mistakes and Grimes will be no different, but she should give one explanation and stick to it.
Bevin clearly mishandled his reaction to whether he did or did not support the Troubled Asset Relief Program–the 2008 federal bailout of banks–after he had consistently whacked McConnell on the campaign trail for his vote. McConnell’s campaign was able to come in quickly, brand him, and move on to the next hit. Voss called it a lesson in “how not to handle controversy.”
“She will have some, she’s bound to in a long and grueling campaign,” Voss said. “When these little controversies arrive smart people understand the system. Come up with your message and stay on it.”
3. McConnell May Have an Advantage Already Because of His Primary
McConnell preached unity in his speech last night and said Bevin made him a “stronger candidate.” It’s something that on the surface looks impossible. The primary must have divided Republicans in the state, right? Maybe, but it’s possible McConnell has the wind at his back now and that he’s the one with the momentum. He’s been tearing Bevin apart for months. A win wasn’t enough, they had to crush him. Grimes won’t have that advantage of being in the hand to hand combat really until now.
“In the battle of a primary, it can help you build an infrastructure and get your message out early,” Voss said. “It can help,” adding Bevin voters may be sore this morning, but “tea party voters are not the type to sit out elections…they were a highly mobilized group before we used the word tea party. These are voters.”