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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to face challenge from Ky. official next year

Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes speaks with reporters about her decision to challenge Sen. Mitch McConnell during a news conference in Frankfort, Ky., (Roger Alford/Associated Press)

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) announced Monday that she will run for Senate in 2014, giving Democrats a top challenger against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Grimes, 34, was one of the last remaining big-name options Democrats had to challenge McConnell, who has been portrayed by Senate Democrats as one of their top targets next year.

“I’m here today to tell you that I’ve met with my supporters, we have had a great conversation and determined and decided that we can next make the best move, the best difference in the Commonwealth of Kentucky by running for the U.S. Senate,” Grimes said in Frankfort, the state capital.

Grimes was elected secretary of state in 2011, taking more than 60 percent of the vote. Before that, she practiced law in Lexington. She is the daughter of former state Democratic Party chairman Jerry Lundergan.

McConnell brings a lot of experience to the race — he is in his fifth term — and, as the GOP leader in the Senate, lots of power and money. But he has never been beloved at home and continues to draw strong and well-funded challengers despite Kentucky’s conservative lean.

McConnell is likely to have a huge financial advantage over whomever he faces in the general election, and his campaign team has earned a reputation for ruthlessness.

Grimes is expected to link the long-serving McConnell to Washington and argue that it’s time for a change. Republicans immediately began tying Grimes to President Obama, who took less than 40 percent of the vote in Kentucky in 2012. Grimes shrugged off the tactic and said voters have a choice between her and McConnell, not McConnell and Obama.

Grimes also made a gender argument Monday, noting that she is the only woman in statewide office in Kentucky.

“This Kentucky woman does not believe that the voters of Kentucky will be fooled that easily” by McConnell’s campaign, Grimes said.

“Regardless of the vote that is issued in this race, we cannot change who our president is,” she said. “But we can change who we have in Washington representing Kentucky.”

Since actress Ashley Judd, a onetime potential candidate, announced in March that she would not run for the seat, she and other big-name Democrats have focused on recruiting Grimes, who is all but certain to win her primary. Other Democrats who have said they would not run include Gov. Steve Beshear and Rep. John Yarmuth.

Grimes delivered her remarks in front of a banner for her 2011 secretary of state campaign, spoke for just a few minutes and answered two brief questions before departing. The entire press conference, which began more than half an hour late, lasted less than five minutes.

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

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