Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) debated for the first and only time Monday night. Here are our five biggest takeaways:
1. Grimes is not going to say whether she voted for Obama before this campaign is over.
By now, it's clear that Grimes isn't budging. She was asked last week and declined to say whether she voted for Obama in 2008 or 2012. She was asked again in the debate and said that to protect privacy at the ballot box, she wasn't going to talk about it. If she were to reverse course now, it would look like surrender to Republican grousing. That's not going to happen. Obama is very unpopular in Kentucky. Grimes's decision to stay mum is not surprising. But it's not going to stop Republicans from attacking her.
2. McConnell appears to want to have his cake and eat it too on health care.
McConnell wants to repeal Obamacare. But what about Kentucky Kynect? "Kentucky Kynect is a Web site. It was paid for by a 200-and-some-odd-million-dollar grant from the federal government. The Web site can continue. But in my view, the best interests of the country would be achieved by pulling out Obamacare root and branch." Kynect is the state health-care exchange set up with grants offered through the federal health-care law. It's popular. And successful. The Washington Post Fact Checker took up this issue this year and said it is "not credible," based on the history of exchanges, to suggest that the state exchange would survive without the infrastructure put in place by Obamacare.
3. Sen. "Gridlock" vs. Sen. Harry Reid.
Besides Obama, the other Democrat McConnell was eager to associate with Grimes was Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). Grimes, meanwhile, blamed McConnell for stalling progress in the Senate, dubbing him Sen. "Gridlock" and "Shutdown." McConnell argued that he has a good chance of becoming majority leader and can improve the Senate. Will voters buy that? Or do they already hold him partly culpable for the stalled Congress?
4. Both candidates are pitching themselves as a better choice on coal.
McConnell took aim at the record of Reid and the Obama administration on coal. "They are after this industry. They want to shut it down," he said. Grimes said it will take a "coalition effort" with other energy-producing states to make sure Reid listens to Kentucky to ensure coal "has a rightful place as a prime American export." Her argument is that McConnell has not been effective at creating those kinds of relationships.
5. The debate probably doesn't move the needle much in this race.
Both candidates stuck to the positions and talking points they have used on the campaign trail. It's hard to see this debate shifting momentum too much one way or the other. Democrats will point to McConnell's health-care comments and Republicans will highlight Grimes's electoral remarks. But they were going to make those points anyway.