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Alison Lundergan Grimes’s underwhelming launch — and what it means

Alison Lundergan Grimes is taking on perhaps the most fearsome Republican campaign operation in politics: the team of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

That daunting task is what makes her formal announcement on Monday all the more puzzling.

Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes speaks with reporters about her decision to challenge U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell during a press conference in Frankfort, Ky. Grimes criticized McConnell as an obstructionist in Washington. (Roger Alford/Associated Press)

To wit:

* At her press conference, Grimes was flanked by a banner for her 2011 secretary of state campaign rather than a new banner for her Senate campaign.

* Grimes's announcement was not promoted on her Twitter account, her Facebook page or really by anyone other than her top adviser, who told the Associated Press about the 3 p.m. announcement on Monday morning.

* As of Tuesday afternoon, Grimes still had no campaign Web site, though and appear to have been snapped up by someone. That means that anybody who was excited by her launch and wants to contribute money to her campaign has no outlet to do so.

* Grimes showed up more than half an hour late for her press conference, after gathering with advisers and supporters to inform them of her decision.

* According to Ryan Alessi, a terrific reporter in Kentucky, people in the room at Grimes's announcement described it as “unorthodox,” “unprecedented,” “fascinating” and even “surreal." Grimes didn't tell even her closest advisers about her decision until she made it.

* She appeared at her press conference for less than five minutes, offering a brief statement and responding to just two questions.

Even before Grimes made her decision, one prominent Democratic consultant grumbled to The Fix that it was a rollout unworthy of a major political campaign. "If it is a 'yes,' then this will go down as one of the worst rollouts ever," said the Democratic consultant, who was granted anonymity to offer a candid assessment.

Other Democrats defend Grimes by noting that this is all pretty inside-baseball stuff. They say Grimes was never going to raise tons of money just days before Independence Day and that she can ramp up in the weeks ahead. They also note that her launch was big news across Kentucky and that it actually came on a very good day, given the lack of other news. In other words: the average Kentuckian saw a solid launch.

And keep in mind: We are still nearly 500 days away from Election Day 2014. A campaign's rollout is hardly the be-all, end-all. Grimes will get a Web site where supporters can donate money. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will make sure she has a first rate campaign team around her. And her first 24 hours as a candidate aren't proof positive of whether she will be a strong nominee in six months or a year's time.

Where Monday's rollout starts to be a concern for Democrats, though, is if it's a sign of things to come. To take on McConnell, you need to be running on all cylinders from the word "go." This is a state, after all, that gave President Obama less than 40 percent of the vote, and McConnell had $8.6 million in the bank at the end of March. Republicans are very ready for this fight.


Case in point: While the Grimes campaign still has little in the way of a digital footprint, the National Republican Senatorial Committee was up and running Web and Google ads against Grimes shortly after her announcement.

While Grimes is certainly one of the best recruits Kentucky Democrats could have landed, she's still somewhat unproven. She had a very strong showing in 2011, taking more than 60 percent of the vote and also winning a contested primary against an appointee of Gov. Steve Beshear (D). But a secretary of state campaign isn't exactly the political big leagues, and it was her first campaign.

Monday's rollout will soon be forgotten by most people. The question is whether it's a momentary headache or a symptom of some bigger problem.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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