Alison Lundergan Grimes, paper tiger?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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On paper, Alison Lundergan Grimes was the perfect recruit to run against Sen. Mitch McConnell. McConnell’s negatives are high, and Grimes is seen as an attractive (just me, or does she resemble Molly Parker?) young Secretary of State — with potential cultural crossover appeal in the “Bluegrass State.” And it also doesn’t hurt that she happens to be the daughter of former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman (and Bill Clinton pal) Jerry Lundergan, either.

And indeed, the race is close. But that only belies the fact that Grimes has, thus far, proven to be a mediocre candidate, running a mediocre campaign. And this suggests that McConnell might just be able to survive.

Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald Leader recently moved back home to Kentucky. He’s pretty well positioned to compare and contrast DC perceptions about the race with on-the-ground realities, and during a recent conversation on the Political Wire podcast, he discussed this dichotomy.

“For a long time before I moved home,” Youngman said, “I was reading in a number of publications about what a formidable campaign it was. And from what I’ve seen so far…from what I’ve seen on the ground, at least, that doesn’t track. It’s a campaign that has struggled consistently to find its footing.”

“My own personal feeling is that they have missed a series of opportunities to define her in the minds of Kentucky voters,” he continued, “because, despite winning statewide office in 2011, she’s still not that well known — which, as you well know, is a danger zone for a first-time candidate.”

It’s easy to blame a campaign, but there is a growing sense that Grimes isn’t terribly comfortable talking substantively about policy. “I had an interview with secretary Grimes a couple weeks ago,” Youngman said, “and I just pressed her on the jobs plan — how much does it cost?, how many jobs would it create? — and some of these basic specifics are just missing from the plan. Really, I’ve been very surprised that it’s not more of a comprehensive campaign.”

This dovetails with what my sources are telling me on background — that Grimes is terrific when she hews closely to her scripted talking points — but falls apart when she strays from it. A recent, high-profile interview Grimes conducted with NBC’s Kasie Hunt, seems to confirm this. For much of the interview, she was charming and coherent. But she fell apart when asked about President Obama.

Grimes was well positioned to become the marquee Senate candidate in an otherwise pretty bleak year for Democrats. But there is a growing sense that she may not be up for the occasion. “It seemed to me that around Christmas, [Georgia Senate candidate] Michelle Nunn supplanted Grimes as sort of the Democratic candidate to watch,” Youngman said.

Easy, tiger.