Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is again calling in the “Big Dog” in her quest to unseat five-term Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Former President Bill Clinton will join Grimes on Aug. 6 for a campaign rally in eastern Kentucky, according to a campaign official who would provide no further details.

But given the efforts by the McConnell campaign to tie Grimes to the environmental policies of President Barack Obama, and the declining fortunes of the eastern Kentucky coal economy, it’s probably a safe bet the event will take place somewhere in the coal fields of southeastern Kentucky.

It will be the second visit to Kentucky this year by Clinton on Grimes’ behalf, but probably not the last. Clinton is a close friend with Grimes’ father, Jerry Lundergan, and he has known Grimes since she was a teenager.

In February, Clinton spoke to about 1,000 Grimes supporters in Louisville, endorsing the jobs plan Grimes touts in her campaign and focusing on the economic issues Grimes wishes to use against McConnell.

That was Clinton’s first campaign appearance in the 2014 election cycle, indicating the importance he attaches to the effort to defeat McConnell, the Republican Senate Minority Leader who has been Obama’s major nemesis in Congress.

Clinton also appeared in a video endorsing Grimes which was broadcast at Grimes’ formal campaign kickoff last summer in Lexington at the Carrick House, owned by Lundergan.

Unlike Obama, Clinton and his wife Hillary, the former U.S. Secretary of State who is widely regarded as the 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner, remain popular in Kentucky.

Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to carry Kentucky – twice – in a presidential election and Hillary Clinton defeated Obama in the 2008 Kentucky presidential primary by a wide margin. Lundergan managed Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Kentucky primary campaign.

“We are humbled by President Clinton’s continued commitment to our campaign and the hardworking people of Kentucky,” Jonathan Hurst, Grimes’ campaign manager, said Saturday.

“The President shares Alison’s vision for a strong middle class and his support in electing Alison, a champion for working families, to the U.S. Senate is invaluable,” Hurst said.

Grimes has run successive television ads hitting McConnell on traditional Democratic working-class themes: Medicare and blue collar jobs.

Since McConnell gave a controversial answer to Edmund Shelby, editor of the Beattyville Enterprise, saying local job development wasn’t the job of a U.S. Senator but that of the state commerce cabinet, Grimes has highlighted the issue at every opportunity.

Clinton won his first term on similar issues when the theme of his 1992 campaign was, “It’s the economy, stupid.” He’s also known as an effective advocate for Democratic policies.

Clinton clearly boosted Obama’s re-election fortunes with a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention after which Obama dubbed the former president as “explainer in chief.”

No doubt Grimes is hoping Clinton can do the same for her in the coal fields, once a Democratic strong hold but increasingly inimical to Obama and national Democrats.

In the primary, Grimes won coal-producing counties easily against an undistinguished Democratic primary field, but she underperformed in those counties when measured against her statewide average vote totals. On the other hand, McConnell outperformed his statewide totals in the same counties.

McConnell accuses Obama of waging “a war on coal,” though most industry experts blame the high cost of mining eastern Kentucky coal and market forces such as cheap natural gas as primary reasons for eastern Kentucky coal’s decline.

He also tells voters he could become the Senate Majority Leader if the GOP wins control of the Senate this year, as many think may happen, and it would be foolish for Kentucky voters to exchange a Senate leader for a “back bencher” freshman.

Clinton is likely to address all those issues in his visit.

The announcement comes just a week before the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in far western Kentucky where Grimes and McConnell will share the same stage for the first time. Excitement over a Clinton visit can’t hurt the enthusiasm of Grimes’ supporters at that event, either.

Most publicly released independent polls continue to show the race tight, some with Grimes and others with McConnell leading. But all of them have the race within the margin of error.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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