By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign said Tuesday she raised more money in the previous quarter than incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.
Grimes’ campaign announced it raised $2.5 million, surpassing the nearly $2.3 million raised by McConnell during the same 90-days. When McConnell’s campaign released its third-quarter total last week, campaign manager Jesse Benton called it McConnell’s strongest fundraising quarter ever.
However, Grimes remains far behind the five-term Republican Senate minority leader who has raised $17.7 million total for the election cycle and has $10 million cash on hand. Grimes will have to improve on her fundraising in coming quarters if she is to come close to matching what McConnell already has.
Outside groups also have already weighed in on both sides with advertising and are likely to pump millions more into a race which will be the most watched in the country.
Still, Grimes’ total for the first quarter since she became a declared candidate probably reached the minimum threshold many political pundits believed Grimes needed in order to be taken seriously.
McConnell also must pay heed to a tea party-backed primary challenger, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, who last week announced he had raised $822,000 for the quarter, including $600,000 of his own money.
Grimes has a primary challenger, University of Louisville professor Greg Leichty, but he isn’t seen as a credible threat to her nomination.
Predictably, both the Grimes and McConnell campaigns tried to put their spin on Grimes’ report.
Grimes political consultant Jonathan Hurst said the amount exceeds any Democratic Senate candidate in the current election cycle except for New Jersey Democrat Corey Booker, who is on a special election ballot next week.
“There isn’t a Senate candidate in the country that in only 11 weeks has built the campaign infrastructure and raised the numbers we have,” Hurst said. Grimes didn’t declare her candidacy until July.
Allison Moore, spokeswoman for the McConnell campaign, noted Grimes hired fundraising consultants who helped Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren break several fundraising records.
“Alison Lundergan Grimes had the red carpet rolled out for her in front of the national liberal elite in places like Hollywood, Martha’s Vineyard and Las Vegas and still came up far short of the $7 million first quarter benchmark set by her own professional fundraising team,” Moore said.
Moore said it’s “clear that Alison Lundergan Grimes is not as popular as she’d hoped to be among Democrat donors.”
But Hurst said Grimes’ report indicates 13,327 unique contributors, more than twice McConnell’s, and that more than 11,000 contributions were for amounts less than $50. He said Grimes received contributions from all 120 Kentucky counties and from all 50 states.
Hurst said Grimes banked $2 million of the total haul.
“The record-breaking showing speaks to the overwhelming grassroots momentum behind Alison’s campaign and the fact that people across the political spectrum are tired of Mitch McConnell’s out-of-touch, failed leadership,” Hurst said.
Both McConnell and Grimes have relied heavily on out-of-state fundraisers while criticizing the other for doing so.
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.