Cleaning Up the Grimes

July 16, 2014

National Review

By Andrew Johnson

If you want an answer about Alison Lundergan Grimes’s position, it might be quicker to ask her staff than to ask the Ketucky Democratic Senate candidate herself.

A year after hitting the campaign trail to unseat Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Grimes’s remains an unpolished candidate. Just ask her campaign staff: They’re the ones who have to follow up and clarify what she actually meant to say.

Grimes hasn’t been the smoothest candidates from the get-go: Her seemingly unprepared campaign launch was marred with sloppiness, which included not having a website and an appearance in which Grimes was flanked by a banner from her 2011 campaign for secretary of state. Since announcing, she has become notorious for dodging questions about a variety of issues.

Grimes’s ducking tends to go one of two ways, but it often brings forth the same outcome. In some cases she gives a non-answer, not staking out a position in any way, often being content simply to slam McConnell. In other cases, Grimes gives an answer that is later dubbed a gaffe. Either way, her responses are shortly followed by some spokesperson clarifying what the candidate meant to say.

Grimes’s most recent stumble exemplifies the first scenario. Earlier this month, a flustered Grimes failed to give a direct answer to four separate questions on whether or not she supported President Obama’s $3.7 billion supplemental funding request for the U.S. border; she repeatedly answered as if she were being asked about the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, as well as sprinkling in the occasional McConnell swipe.


Her answer, or lack thereof, left observers uncertain about where Grimes stood, and even if she understood the issue at hand.

Her campaign manager eventually stepped in and clarified her position days later. Jonathan Hurst told The Hill that the candidate feels the crisis is a consequence of the failure of immigration reform efforts. Hurst said Grimes would not support the president’s request “until there is a clear plan that outlines how these funds will be used,” a response that echoes that of many Republicans. It’s also a far cry from what Grimes initially said when asked.

Staffers have had to go to some lengths to refine Grimes’s statements on several other issues as well. In a profile of the candidate by Politico’s Manu Raju earlier this year, staffers had to clarify at least two imprecise answers in a single nine-minute interview.

In one case, Raju wrote that Grimes did not “explicitly” say her stance on cap-and-trade legislation in coal-friendly Kentucky. A spokeswoman later had to explain that Grimes opposed such legislation.

Would she support President Obama again if she could go back? Grimes only told Raju that “your facts are mistaken there,” and left it at that. The spokeswoman acknowledged that Grimes did, in fact, back the president in 2012 and served as a Democratic National Convention delegate.

Grimes’s position on abortion also remains somewhat fuzzy. In 2013, shortly after launching her campaign, she told the Huffington Post that she was “pro-choice down the line on abortion.” But the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack reached out to Grimes’s campaign to ask whether she would back a federal 20-week abortion limit; Kentucky is one of the most pro-life states in the country.

A spokeswoman responded with one sentence: “Alison opposes late-term abortions.” McCormack notes that the response fails to answer the question whether she would vote for a ban after 20 weeks.

With less than four months before the election and attention ramping up, Grimes will surely face more scrutiny and be expected to provide more definitive answers, all while feeling the brunt of a savvy and tactful McConnell campaign operation. If this pattern continues to November, voters will be stuck on the question of who Alison Grimes is: Is she the flummoxed candidate they see on the stump, or the lawmaker that her campaign says she is afterward?

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