Alison Lundergan Grimes: Can She Knock Off the Senate's GOP Kingpin?

In September 2012, a 33-year-old Alison Lundergan Grimes, the relatively unknown secretary of state from Kentucky, stood proudly at the Democratic National Convention to support the nomination of President Barack Obama for a second term. Prior to this moment, Grimes had served as an associate at the law firm Stoll Keenon Ogden in Lexington, Kentucky, specializing in intellectual property and complex business litigation.

Almost a year later, Grimes, the daughter of former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Lundergan, stands on another national stage — this time promoting her own intent for nomination to unseat longtime political powerhouse Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Unheard of until her underwhelming campaign debut last week, most of America, and even the state which she represents, knew very little about the lawyer-turned-state-constitutional-officer with a scarce political record.

Nearly 500 days away from election day 2014, the McConnell machine is already up $8.6 million in the bank, launching web and Google ads against Grimes shortly after her campaign announcement. The National Republican Senatorial Committee even knocked out a  mock campaign website before Grimes could even set up a domain to collect donations.

In a heavy Republican state where President Obama lost by 23 points in 2012, it is difficult to say what issues Grimes plans to bring to the Washington arena if elected. She has yet to make a statement or produce an agenda on labor or climate change even weeks after President Obama’s announcement that he would bypass Congress to implement an aggressive climate change plan that could potentially increase costs for middle-class families, drown small businesses, and stifle the Kentucky coal industry.

In a state where the median household income stands around a solid $42,000 and  an overwhelming 96.7% of employers are small businesses, silence can only mean that Grimes is either too timid to stand against the liberal agenda, or she agrees with it. Many are wondering exactly what Grimes’ positions are on state and national issues. In fact, even the most experienced researcher or campaign strategist would be hard-pressed to find any trace of a statement the secretary has made about anything, including coal, one of Kentucky’s leading sources for economic prosperity. The coal industry provides 93% of Kentucky’s electricity and employs nearly 19,000 Kentuckians — 20% of coal jobs in the entire United States.

Considering that the mining industry was one of the top 10 donors to Grimes’ 2011 campaign, she will need to choose between the Democratic Party platform that she has proudly and publicly supported, or stand with the special interests of the state along with an opponent who has been supporting them for almost three decades. Surprisingly enough, other top donors that Grimes accepted campaign donations from in 2011 were from industries that heavily favor the McConnell agenda, such as the Kentucky Bankers Association, the international law firm Steptoe and Johnson, and the RJ Reynolds Tobacco company, who donated the maximum amount allowed under FEC contribution limits.

If Grimes were to oust Sen. McConnell, Kentucky would lose an overwhelming presence of seniority at the national level. The state has only experienced such representation one other time in its history, under the leadership of Alben Barkley, as Senate majority leader in 1937. With McConnell as a Republican household name, legislation and special interests that are essential to the heartbeat of the state’s economic lifeline will remain at the forefront.

Sen. McConnell has fought to protect Kentucky’s tobacco farmers and industry. He also supported legislation to legalize industrialized hemp, which is predicted to create nearly 70,000 jobs for Kentuckians and is the most environmentally friendly crop grown by Kentucky farmers. Combined, Kentucky’s agriculture industry provides income for more than 15% of the state’s working middle-class families, and accounts for a net income of more than $4.8 billion.

The next six months will serve as a testament to the validity and strength of the Grimes campaign as she begins filling in a blank slate with her political agenda against a seasoned opponent who already had a rather extensive agenda before Grimes even started first grade.