By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
RICHMOND — They’ve made up their minds. They just wish Alison Lundergan Grimes would make up hers.
They are Madison County Democrats who want Grimes, the first-term Democratic Secretary of State, to challenge five-term Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell ,and some think time is running out to find a solid opponent.
There were several Grimes supporters in a crowd of about 70 who gathered Thursday afternoon here at the Agricultural Extension Office to hear Grimes discuss potential improvements in Kentucky’s election laws. But it was the Senate race which was on some minds.
“Of course she should run,” said Peggy Rice, a staunch Democrat and former Madison County magistrate. “I hope she will.”
Is she taking too long to make up her mind?
“She hasn’t led us on; we led her on,” Rice said, referring to Democratic hopes Grimes will run.
But some, including Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville, have said Grimes should decide soon. She risks “freezing the field” for other potential Democratic candidates and if she decides not to run, it may become too late for Democrats to field a formidable challenger to McConnell.
Democratic consultant Danny Briscoe fears Grimes risks attack by McConnell if she waits much longer.
On Wednesday, the day before Grimes came to Richmond, a SuperPAC — Kentuckians for Strong Leadership — which supports McConnell’s re-election ran an ad in the Richmond Register newspaper attempting to link Grimes with President Barack Obama and Democratic Minority Leader in the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi. Both are highly unpopular in Kentucky.
The same group ran similar ads in Paducah and Covington newspapers before earlier election-law meetings Grimes conducted.
At the rear of the room Thursday, two young men operated video cameras, recording everything Grimes said and did. One is an employee of the Republican Party of Kentucky. The other would identify himself only as “Tyler. I’m a private citizen.”
They are “trackers,” people hired by campaigns or political action groups to follow other candidates, collecting video and audio which might be useful in future campaign ads.
Lucie Nelson noticed. The Democrat said Grimes can’t wait much longer.
“It’s got to come soon because he’s (McConnell) going to come after her,” Nelson said.
At one time actress and activist Ashley Judd publicly said she might challenge McConnell before later announcing she’d decided not to. But during the time she considered the race, she was the subject of unflattering web video ads by Republican groups.
As she has for months, Grimes told reporters before Thursday’s event she is still doing homework about a potential run. She was asked if she’s set a deadline for her decision.
“Well, I’m giving it the due diligence it deserves,” Grimes answered. “It means gathering all the facts, the facts necessary to make the decision that’s best for my family and best for the citizens of Kentucky as to how I can best serve them.”
But she didn’t offer a deadline for deciding.
Madison County Attorney Marc Robbins said Democrats are getting antsy.
“The clock is ticking, and a lot of Democrats are anxious to get a candidate,” Robbins said. “She still has time, but I think it must be relatively soon.”
Nancye Spicer wants Grimes to run but thinks she’s waiting to find out if national Democratic groups like the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee will provide the necessary funding.
“It all depends if people can get together and provide the funding for her,” Spicer said.
Peggy Rice agreed. “You know what makes the world go round — money,” she said.
Grimes on Thursday wouldn’t publicly respond to questions about financing a Senate run.
McConnell has thus far raised more than $13 million. In 2008, he spent more than $20 million to defeat Democratic challenger Bruce Lunsford, and some predict he will spend more than $30 million this time if he gets a strong challenger.
Grimes’ father is Jerry Lundergan, a businessman and former chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party who is a proven fundraiser. He’s also close to Bill and Hillary Clinton who can raise money for Grimes if she decides to run.
But McConnell is far ahead in fundraising, and he won’t stop raising more. He too will benefit from outside groups. While others decide whether to run, McConnell keeps adding to his financial advantage.
Forness Park, a former Madison County magistrate who said he worked as an election officer 70 years ago, hopes Grimes says yes — and soon.
“I hope she does,” Park said. “Somebody needs to come out pretty quick. McConnell’s already got a big war chest.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.