Mitch McConnell, political arsonist?

October 28, 2013

In Alison Lundergan Grimes's first ad in the Kentucky Senate race, a narrator accuses Mitch McConnell of "light[ing] the house on fire and then claim[ing] credit for putting it out."  As those words are said, there is a house on screen being incinerated. Literally.

Check out the ad:

"Mitch McConnell has been going around Kentucky for the past week trying to rewrite history and deceive Kentucky voters, and Alison isn't going to let him get away with it," explained Mark Putnam, Grimes's media consultant. "We're setting down a marker early that Senator Gridlock caused this mess in Washington and will be held accountable."

A few observations:

1. The ad will stand out and will get attention both in the state and outside it.When you set a house on fire in an ad and accuse the Senate minority leader of doing it -- not literally but you get the idea -- people will talk. That is, of course, at least part of the point. Grimes needs national attention -- particularly from the Democratic donor class -- to stay financially competitive with McConnell. And national donors loathe McConnell, so implying that he is single-handedly destroying the democratic process will appeal to them.

2. This is a very process-y ad. Aside from the arresting visual, the script focuses on procedural matters -- noting that McConnell has called himself a "proud guardian of gridlock" and adding that he has "blocked" the Senate more than 400 times.  Count us as generally skeptical that these sorts of process arguments work. Yes, people in Kentucky likely know that McConnell is the top Republican in the Senate but are they engaged enough to grasp the filibuster/hold rules? And given the conservative nature of the electorate in Kentucky, is being seen as a blockade for President Obama's legislative priorities all that bad a thing? (To return to point No. 1, it's uniquely possible that this ad was made and aired with a focus on the national Democratic donor base.)

3.  Holy cow is this going to be a nasty race.  When your first ad of the campaign accuses your opponent of symbolically burning down the government, it's an indication that there aren't going to be all that many positive ads coming down the pike. Again, this makes sense. Lundergan Grimes must persuade the electorate to fire someone they have been sending to Washington for the past three decades, and that's no easy task. And, she and her campaign know that McConnell will be ruthless in trying to portray her as a tool of the national (liberal) Democratic Party. This is a fight-fire-with-fire moment. (Pun intended.)

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Sean Sullivan | October 28, 2013