Ellison's Must Read of the Day

Ellison must read
October 14, 2014

My must read of the day is "Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes take their talking points face to face," by Sam Youngman, in the Lexington Herald-Leader:

There were no obvious major missteps — other than those they already have endured — by either candidate as they debated for nearly 60 minutes on KET's Kentucky Tonight.

Grimes, Kentucky's secretary of state, struck an aggressive pose as she repeatedly interrupted and lobbed attacks at McConnell, who often gave long, lecture-style answers. He retorted on multiple occasions that the claims being made by Grimes had been given "four Pinocchios" by the Washington Post's fact-checker. (The newspaper gives that rating to claims that are "whoppers.")

Grimes again refused to say whether she voted for Obama in 2008 or 2012, saying that as the state's chief elections officer, she had a duty to protect the sanctity of the ballot box and Americans' right to a secret ballot.

"There's no reluctance," Grimes said Monday night. "This is a matter of principle."

That is a change from when Grimes told the show Ballot Bomb, a KET program set to air this month, that she voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

There wasn’t much in the debate that will change anyone’s perspective. Neither candidate made any major missteps, as Youngman notes, and neither candidate made significant news.

Stylistically, Grimes seemed to have a stronger, more polished answer out of the gate and again on the final question, but McConnell hit a good stride with almost every question in between.

The vast majority of the debate centered on coal—coal jobs and the energy policies that hurt them—and throughout that, Grimes tried to paint McConnell as the quintessential DCer; one who has been there for three decades, doing little beyond building up his own stature and adding to the gridlock that frustrates so many Americans.

McConnell, on the other hand, sought to convince voters that Grimes was insincere—a candidate who tells Kentuckians one thing but is ultimately beholden to Majority Leader Harry Reid and the deeply unpopular President Obama.

Naturally, the debate was peppered with renditions of talking points that we’ve heard for months and moments of vagueness, but there were instances where it felt like voters were able to see, directly or inadvertently, details about each candidate and what they prioritize. The problem, for Grimes, is that none of those moments were strong enough to make much news. The only thing people will remember from the debate is that Grimes once again refused to say whether she voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, and nearly every article this morning reflects that.

CBS News headlines their report "The Simple Question Grimes Won’t Answer Again," over at Politico it’s "Grimes still mum on Obama vote," and there are similar pieces at the Hill, Huffington Post, the Daily Mail, Newsmax, Real Clear Politics, and CNN.

Did you vote for President Obama in 2008 and 2012 was the question and answer everyone was waiting to see after Grimes painfully bungled the question in an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal editorial board.

She knew it was coming, but last night, Grimes essentially gave the same answer that got her in trouble just last week.

"This is a matter of principle. Our Constitution grants, here in Kentucky, the constitutional right for privacy at the ballot box, for a secret ballot," Grimes told the moderator.

"And as secretary of state, the chief election official, I'm tasked with overseeing and making sure that we're enforcing all of our election laws. If I as chief election official … don’t stand up for that right, who in Kentucky will?"

That argument would possibly work if Grimes consistently refused to disclose whom she voted for in any election, but she hasn’t. According to Youngman, there’s an upcoming radio interview where Grimes flatly says she voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primary. In the interview with the Courier Journal she prefaced the question that got her in trouble by reminding people she was a surrogate for Hillary Clinton six years ago.

Of course Grimes voted for Obama—she is a Democrat and she was a delegate for Obama in 2012. Unless she shockingly voted for McCain or Romney, there’s no scandal in acknowledging that she voted for President Obama. Say you voted for him, and then add a simple caveat explaining, "but I, like other Kentuckians, have been disappointed with his presidency and I disagree with him on a host of issues,"

Boom. Done. Easy peasy and everyone moves on.

It’s obvious why Grimes won’t answer the question, and McConnell pointed it out last night as he proudly asserted that he voted for Romney in 2012: only 4 counties in Kentucky voted for Obama in 2012. Out of 120 counties, 116 went for Romney.

Obama is disliked in Kentucky, but Grimes is not inoculating herself from the president’s unpopularity by avoiding an answer. She chose to double down on a terrible answer that, as I wrote last week, made her seem weak-willed and irresolute—and it’s the only answer people will remember from Monday night’s debate.