By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
There’s a bounce in the step of some Kentucky Democrats these days that has been missing in recent federal campaigns.
At least there was Thursday night among about 400 Democrats at the Marion County Democratic Dinner where Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat who wants to unseat incumbent five-term Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell next year, was the keynote speaker.
Having despaired for years of finding a Democrat who can beat McConnell in a conservative state that tends to vote Republican in federal elections, many Democrats now believe Grimes might finally pull it off.
“She’s just the right candidate at the right time,” said Barry Brady, the Democratic Marion County Jailer after Grimes addressed the crowd for about 20 minutes, hitting traditional Democratic themes of supporting the middle class and working men and women. Especially women.
Maybe that’s because of her gender and the number of female voters in the electorate. But Thursday night it may have also been because of about 15 nuns, sisters from the Loretto Community, who were on hand, sporting signs that read “Nuns for Grimes.”
Former Gov. Julian Carroll, now a state senator, introduced Grimes, but not before he told the crowd what it wanted to hear.
“I want you to know; I want you to believe,” Carroll said, raising his voice. “Mitch McConnell can be beaten,” drawing out each word for effect as the crowd rose to its feet cheering.
Grimes took up the theme, telling the crowd that national pundits initially labeled the Kentucky race as “strongly leaning Republican” but revised that to “a complete and total toss-up” after she entered the race and now multiple polls are showing her with a slim lead over McConnell.
She hammered home themes about supporting the middle class, criticizing McConnell for votes against raising the minimum wage; saying Kentucky needs a senator who will fight for labor and stand up for women.
She invoked a comment by a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee who referred to Grimes as “an empty dress.”
“The last time I checked – and the sisters and I talked about this tonight – it’s not what’s in the dress, it’s what’s in the head, and I’ll stack this full head up against his empty head any day,” a fiery Grimes said as the crowd stood and applauded.
As she has in the past, Grimes called McConnell “Dr. No” and “The Guardian of Gridlock,” saying he is at the center of the dysfunction in Washington, a criticism McConnell scoffs at given his involvement in several major negotiations over the past two years. But the Democrats on hand Thursday loved it.
State Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon, afterward said he hadn’t seen so much enthusiasm among Marion County Democrats in a long time.
One of them, 84-year-old Elizabeth Johnson, said she couldn’t imagine anyone voting for McConnell.
“I’m looking for someone to look out for me,” she said.
“I’ve worked all my life and I need to vote for someone who will help me,” said the African-American woman who said she still does some “day work, cleaning houses.”
For the nuns, it’s not a hard choice, said Sister Lupe Arceniega, a first-generation American of Hispanic descent who strongly supports immigration reform.
“Not for this group,” Arceniega said. “Our mission is to work with the poor and many of the politicians don’t want to work for the poor.”
Earlier the sisters, in the news of late for opposing a proposed gas line through the area, were almost giddy talking to Grimes. They asked her to autograph one of the signs they’d placed on their three tables. Grimes, who is Catholic, asked the nuns to autograph another of the signs for her.
November 2014 is more than a year away, and McConnell is a proven campaigner with lots of money who’s running in a conservative state. But at least for one night in Marion County, Democrats were excited to believe that one of their own could win.
“I’m rooting for Alison because I think she’ll go to D.C. and remember all the people getting poorer every day,” said Sister Pauline Albin. “Our motto is to work for justice and to act for peace.”
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.