- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2014

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes kept pace with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in fundraising late last year in one of the nation’s most closely watched campaigns.

But the longest-serving senator in Kentucky’s history headed into an election year with three times as much money in the bank as Grimes.

McConnell’s campaign said Friday that the Senate’s top-ranked Republican raised $2.22 million in the final three months of 2013. Grimes‘ campaign said she took in $2.1 million during the period.

Heading into 2014, McConnell had the luxury of dipping into a campaign bank account that totaled $10.9 million, while Grimes had almost $3.5 million on hand, the respective campaigns said.

McConnell, always a prolific fundraiser, has already collected $20 million for the election, gearing up for another tough race in his home state.

By the end of 2013, Grimes had taken in $4.6 million since launching her campaign last year to win back a Senate seat for Democrats in Kentucky. Grimes is secretary of state in Kentucky.

She’s trying to end a string of GOP Senate victories in Kentucky. Republicans have dominated federal elections for years in Kentucky, despite a registration advantage held by Democrats.

McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said the incumbent’s fourth-quarter numbers would have been higher, but he canceled fundraising during the partial government shutdown late last year.

“Which further illustrates the enthusiastic support he is gaining every day from people across America who appreciate his conservative leadership and willingness to fight on their behalf,” Benton said in a statement.

Grimes has yet to run a TV ad in the campaign. McConnell went on the air with TV commercials in January in what was the Republican’s largest ad buy of the campaign so far.

McConnell is facing a spirited challenge in the May 20 GOP primary from Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, whose campaign reported raising $900,000 in the fourth quarter.

Bevin is portraying the five-term incumbent as an out-of-touch Washington insider.

Grimes is the clear favorite to win the Democratic nomination, and she has already been focusing her attention on McConnell.

“Our campaign gives Kentuckians an opportunity to self-correct - to elect a senator who finally puts the people of Kentucky - not partisan politics - first,” Grimes said in a statement. “Kentucky families deserve better.”

University of Kentucky political scientist Stephen Voss said the numbers indicate Grimes will amass more than enough campaign money to spread her message to Kentucky voters.

McConnell’s high-profile status ensured that money would flow to his opponent, he said.

“I don’t think anyone had any doubt that beating Mitch McConnell was enough of a prize that outsiders would be willing to pour a lot of money into this campaign,” Voss said.

McConnell has been one of President Barack Obama’s most constant and fiercest critics on a range of issues, including environmental regulations and the health-care overhaul law.

Grimes‘ campaign said she has received contributions from 30,000 individuals so far, with a median contribution of $25. Contributions have come from across Kentucky and all 50 states.

McConnell’s campaign said its median contribution was $50.

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