Hillary and Bill Clinton’s visit to Iowa this weekend for the Harkin Steak Fry generated plenty of headlines, but its political impact may end up being bigger in Kentucky than in the Hawkeye State.
That’s because the most memorable moment of the steak fry wasn’t Hillary’s 2016 patter or the effort to boost Bruce Braley, the Democratic Senate candidate in Iowa. It was when Bill Clinton lit into Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is facing a tough reelection bid in Kentucky.
Clinton trotted out a new attack line, slamming McConnell for saying the worst day of his political career was when President George W. Bush signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance legislation. “I was profoundly sad,” Clinton said of McConnell’s remarks. “When I look back on my life in politics, after all those decades and fights and all those campaigns, if the worst thing that ever happened to me was an attempt to limit black bag contributions?” Why not 9/11, the farm crisis, the loss of manufacturing jobs in the ’80s, or the loss of coal mining jobs in Kentucky? Clinton suggested. That McConnell could say “the worst thing that happened to you [in politics] was not being able to black bag unlimited amounts of money” was outrageous, the former president said.
By contrast, most of the support for Braley and other Iowa candidates was relatively standard Democratic boilerplate, and Hillary Clinton’s strategic ambiguity about a presidential campaign was precisely what everyone expected. (After all, what politician blurts out a major life decision while working a rope line?)
But Bill Clinton’s message could prove effective in the Kentucky race. The former president has actively campaigned for McConnell’s Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes. In fact, Clinton’s attack jibes well with a newly released commercial in which Grimes shoots skeet while proclaiming to the camera: “I’m not Barack Obama.”
That message needs to sink in soon with Kentuckians for Grimes to triumph, however. McConnell has been maintaining a steady lead of about four to five points in the conservative Bluegrass State with Election Day less than two months away.