MSNBC’s Chuck Todd addressed the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce yesterday and had some views on the Kentucky Senate race. Todd pointed out correctly, per KET’s Bill Goodman, that one key to a Grimes victory is that she must run away with Fayette and Jefferson Counties.
As noted here at B&P, this reality puts the oft-overlooked 6th District Congressional race between Rep. Garland H. Barr IV and his Democratic challenger Elisabeth Jensen at Ground Zero of the epic statewide Senate race. For Grimes to win, voters will have to come out en masse for her in Fayette County. If she’s successful, it’s likely that Jensen will be as well. But if national Dems can’t stanch the unfettered flow of big GOP money to Andy Barr, it is possible that Andy’s bankroll could spell Grimes’ defeat. Barr currently has $1.3M on hand, the majority of it coming from big national funders and an orgy of Too Big To Fail Wall Street special interests.
The 6th District (and Andy’s Too Big To Fail cash advantage) is just one part of a larger view. Chuck Todd apparently also claimed that the Kentucky Senate race isn’t really in the national playbook for Democrats and that their interest in the Grimes/McConnell race is simply in riling up the liberal donor base outside Kentucky. On this, Todd seems wildly out of touch. The Kentucky Senate race is the most expensive of the year, possibly in history. If the Dems were just using the race to raise money, why would they then be spending that money? Setting aside Todd’s conspiracy theory, consider that one person who was really excited to spread it was J. Scott Jennings, the former Karl Rove deputy and Mitch McConnell aide who now helps run two Karl Rove connected groups that are dumping massive amounts of money into the race on behalf of Mitch McConnell:
— Scott Jennings (@ScottJenningsKY) July 22, 2014
Much of the dialogue about the Kentucky Senate race has focused on the race as a referendum on Mitch McConnell. After all, McConnell has a 30 year record of helping himself to power while his home state languishes further and further behind. McConnell is so wildly reviled as a person that he has actually managed to clock lower approval ratings in Kentucky than Barack Obama.
But if this race is a referendum on Mitch McConnell’s leadership, it’s just as much a referendum on McConnell’s monied establishment allies at American Crossroads, the Karl Rove Super PAC.
Rove has a well documented series of advocacy failures. In 2010, he and his Crossroads groups failed dramatically to defeat Harry Reid in Nevada, spending big and wasting it all. Two years later Karl Rove fared so abysmmally — Crossroads spent nearly $200 Million in 2012 and lost 21 of 30 races, including the White House — that Rove’s election night meltdown on FOX News, in which he pathetically insisted that the sky was not blue, was almost the death knell for America’s favorite turd blossom. In the wake of that horrific failure, Republicans (finally; it’s like an abusive relationship over there) began to turn on Karl Rove (like here).
But by the beginning of this year, some of those big money donors who’d handed Karl wads of cash in previous cycles only to see him blow it had returned for more punishment. Rove and his Crossroads groups are already spending big in the Kentucky Senate race and between now and November, they will play a central narrative role in this election — and the central part of that narrative is: If Karl Rove can’t win this one, can he really be trusted again?
In some sense, the Kentucky Senate race may be Karl Rove’s last chance. This is a referendum on Rove’s future.
Rove’s electoral model at this point consists of siphoning millions out of the wallets of super wealthy Republican donors, then wasting it on bloated attack machines with hefty personnel salaries without delivering results while simultaneously usurping the energy of the conservative grassroots. If Rove’s strategy fails yet again, it’s hard to see him getting yet another chance in 2016.
Yesterday, WFPL’s Phillip Bailey took an in depth look at the ongoing rift between McConnell and the Tea Party and conservative base of the Kentucky Republican Party. While McConnell avoided a primary loss in May, he still watched as 125,000 registered Republicans voted against him. For conservatives looking to rid themselves of Mitch McConnell, there’s not likely to be a better chance than this November — and the McConnell/Rove alliance only makes them despise McConnell further.
In Bailey’s report, he spoke with Republicans county leaders who hold such disdain for McConnell that some were already pledging not to turn out for him. This disdain was strong leading up to the Republican Primary but has only grown worse as McConnell’s role in the subsequent Mississippi Republican Primary has become clear. McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee was one of those (along with Rove’s groups) heavily supporting an establishment Republican over a Tea Party favorite. McConnell (and Rove) ultimately worked with Democrats to defeat the Tea Party candidate, enraging grassroots conservative activists and risking their ire.
It is a significant risk. If even 3% of voters don’t show up for McConnell (or more terrifying to Mitch, cast votes for Grimes just to be done with him), he could lose this race on his Mississippi antics alone.
In an effort to prop up Mitch McConnell, his campaign and its Karl Rove aligned surrogates have been busy trying to distract voters from their strong dislike and disapproval of the Senator. For a man who’s been in office for three decades, the campaign ads in support of Mitch are shockingly short on accomplishments. Mitch can’t run on his record because he doesn’t have much of one and he can’t run on like ability or charm because he doesn’t have that either.
So Karl Rove and his Crossroads groups have swept in to attack and smear on McConnell’s behalf — but that’s a problem in itself. While McConnell’s approval numbers are below Obama’s, Rove’s are even worse… he’s almost universally reviled with strong negative numbers even among lifelong Republican voters.
Now Karl Rove’s here in Kentucky to save Mitch McConnell and in the process try to save himself. Kentucky’s conservative voters are already enraged that McConnell spent big to destroy the conservative voice in Mississippi and they’re likely even more enraged that Karl Rove’s Crossroads group did as well. Crossroads’ role in Mississippi is perhaps more galling since they flat out lied to Republican voters there, pledging not to get involved in the runoff and then funneling in last minute cash to crush the Tea Party.
In a way, Kentucky voters hold in their hands the power to dispense with both Mitch McConnell and Karl Rove.
While Rove’s dark money groups are dumping megabucks on Kentucky, the question may well become: At what cost?
The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition this morning dropped a new ad on the state, spending three quarters of a million dollars to spew a series of Karl Rove style smears in the direction of Alison Grimes — basically they call her a liar 30 times in 30 seconds. The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is a Karl Rove group. Its public-faced adviser is Soctt Jennings, the Rove deputy and former McConnell aide, and the “Coalition” uses Crossroads’ media group for its messaging.
Another Rove group, Kentuckians For Strong Leadership, is also outwardly faced by Jennings and utilizes almost exclusively the same vendors as Rove’s Crossroads groups. Kentuckians for Strong Leadership isn’t actually funded by Kentuckians — their finance reports routinely demonstrate that their money is pouring in almost exclusively from outside the Commonwealth — but it does maintain some ties to the state.
Among the board members of Non-Kentuckians for Strong Leadership is Steven Law. Steven Law spent over a decade working side-by-side with Mitch McConnell, starting out as an intern, later as a campaign manager then as Chief of Staff. Steven Law, the Kentuckians for Strong Leadership board member, is the head of Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS.
And speaking of interns — 6th District Congressman Andy Barr worked under Steven Law when Barr was an intern for Mitch McConnell.
Before heading up Rove’s Crossroads Super PAC, he was general counsel for the Chamber of Commerce. In the current election cycle, the Chamber of Commerce has already jumped in to both the Senate race and the 6th District Congressional one, heavily supporting Barr and McConnell. To make matters worse for McConnell’s efforts to woo back conservative voters, the deeply McConnell-alligned Chamber of Commerce worked alongside Mitch, Karl Rove and American Crossroads to buy the Mississippi Senate race out from under the conservative movement.
Under the direction of former GOP head and longtime McConnell fundraiser R. Michael Duncan, American Crossroads began funneling its considerable campaign contributions through the Kentucky-based bank of Terry Forcht. Duncan is the founding chairman of American Crossroads.
Since 2010, these two McConnell and Rove allies — Forcht and Duncan — have given at least $130,000 to Kentucky’s Republican Party. (Mitch McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee has given another $50,000). This is part of why it is so difficult for those disgruntled members of the state’s Republican Party to wrest control away from McConnell: McConnell and his Karl Rove allies hold the keys.
Forcht, his associates and Duncan have given at least $30,000 directly to McConnell over this same period; and together with McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee, Forcht, his associates and Duncan have given 6th District Congressman Andy Barr in excess of $110,000 over the last three cycles.
In 2012, the Rove/Duncan/Forcht/Law Super PAC American Crossroads spent heavily in the 6th District — indeed, Andy Barr’s victory was one of the only bright spots for the group (remember, they only won nine races out of thirty that year, at exorbitant cost).
It’s very clear that Karl Rove and Mitch McConnell are working together in this cycle just as they have in the past. Rove and McConnell shared the same #1 Priority in 2010 (achieve Majorityship for McConnell) and again in 2012 (the defeat of the President) and the two men failed hand-in-hand each time, in shocking fashion.
Now Rove is trying to help McConnell buy his way back to DC for a 6th term. For the two men, this election may be unlike any other. It’s a referendum on Mitch McConnell and a referendum on Karl Rove.
If McConnell loses, if his 30 year record of looking out for his own interests instead of his state’s finally comes back to bite him; if his repeated efforts to, as he vowed, “crush the Tea Party” come back to haunt him, then he got very close to his life goal but came up oh-so-tragically short.
If McConnell loses… then Karl Rove loses, too. Kentucky may be Karl Rove’s last stand. Rove is once again raking in hundreds of millions of dollars, using the Kentucky Senate race to rile up the Republican mega-wealthy donor base. He’s already spending heavily in the Senate race and there should be little doubt that he will soon be dumping money into the 6th District as well, just as he did in 2012.
Karl Rove is desperate to win this race. He can’t afford to lose it. A record of losing race after race at massive expense, and at the expense of the wishes of the GOP’s conservative base, will become too much. Rove has ostracized and maligned the true conservatives and he is well on his way to finally losing the faith of the establishment GOP billionaire funders.
While Rove will spend massive amounts of other people’s money to try to save his own blossomed behind, blanketing airwaves with his tired Rove attacks, he also opens the door to a powerful counter-visual.
McConnell, Rove and their cross-germinated dark money groups will air ad after ad trying to link Grimes to Obama, to Harry Reid, even to Tom Hanks. If the Grimes, Jensen and national Democratic groups know what’s good for them, they’ll be hitting McConnell and Barr with ads of their own, with Karl Rove’s face plastered all over them.
Rove was lucky to survive his 2012 debacle, but if Kentucky’s liberals, moderates, independents and its disenfranchised patriots on the Right line up against Rove and McConnell, then Kentucky could end up being Karl Rove’s last stand.