- Associated Press - Monday, May 19, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - On the eve of what some had said would be the most difficult election of Mitch McConnell’s career, the Senate minority leader scarcely mentioned the tea party-backed challenger who tried to capitalize on the anti-incumbent fervor that has toppled others in recent years.

McConnell crisscrossed the state Monday, focusing not on GOP opponent Matt Bevin but on President Barack Obama. The strategy hints at how he’ll approach the general campaign against likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes, who McConnell will no doubt try to link to the president who is deeply unpopular in his home state.

“No administration has been worse for Kentucky than this one. Virtually everything they have done has been bad for us,” McConnell told a group of supporters in Louisville, the first of seven scheduled stops on a campaign fly around the day before the election. “There’s nothing the president and his allies would like better than to defeat the guy you are looking at.”

Recent polls have shown McConnell in a virtual tie with Grimes. The Democratic Secretary of State told a group of about 50 people in Shelbyville Monday afternoon that she would be an independent voice in Washington.

“I’ll work with anybody if it’s best for this state,” she said. “But if you seek to undermine the good jobs that … we need here in the commonwealth, you will find no stronger opponent.”

But before McConnell can take on Grimes, he first must defeat Bevin in Tuesday’s primary. Bevin has criticized McConnell for not being a true conservative, citing his votes on the 2008 Wall Street bailout and several votes during his tenure to raise the debt ceiling. But Bevin ran into trouble for a 2008 document from his investment firm that called the bailout a “positive development” and for getting caught on tape saying he thought it was wrong to outlaw cockfighting.

Recent polls have shown Bevin trailing McConnell by as much as 32 percentage points.

But Bevin was undeterred at a campaign stop in Lexington, speaking to an overflow crowd of more than 100 people at the Blue Grass Airport.

“We’re battling this idea that (government) is of and by and for a few and that that few gets to choose, they tell us who runs, they tell us who to vote for, they tell us when it’s time, they tell us who’s qualified,” Bevin said. “Don’t be a sheep your whole life.”

Bevin did not mention McConnell in his speech, either. But he told reporters afterward that McConnell’s campaign has mentioned his name plenty of times in negative ads online, on TV or on the radio.

“The reality is he’s never had a challenger in 30 years, he’s never had anybody run against him,” Bevin said. “We are giving the voters in Kentucky and the Republican voters in this primary the first option they have had in a long time.”

Monday, McConnell took one of Bevin’s frequent criticisms - that McConnell has been in Washington for too long and is out of touch with Kentucky voters - and used it against him. McConnell noted that when he was first elected to the Senate in 1985, he was number 99 out of 100 in seniority and had a desk in the back corner of the chamber.

Now, he said, he has one of the best seats.

“It would be a devastating loss for the commonwealth, too, to trade in the best seat in the house for some place in the back where the light’s not very good,” McConnell said. “Every senator has a vote, but every senator doesn’t have equal influence on the outcomes for the country and for our commonwealth.”

In a memo released Monday, McConnell’s senior campaign adviser Josh Holmes noted Bevin has spent $3.3 million in his bid to oust McConnell, the most of any primary challenger in the last two election cycles. McConnell, meanwhile, has spent $9.2 million - with another $10 million sitting in his campaign account.

McConnell’s strong campaigning gives him crucial momentum going into summer, Holmes told The Associated Press last week.


Beam reported from Frankfort.

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