Kentucky challenger to Sen. Mitch McConnell loses support over immigration ads, debate performance

The Kentucky Democrat challenging Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, in the November election angered many by taking a hard line on immigration and by airing campaign ads that condemned amnesty and undocumented immigrants – calling them "illegal aliens," a phrase that is anathema to immigration activists.

She also has refused to say if she voted for President Barack Obama in 2012.

Now, it seems, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has decided that it has had enough from Alison Lundergan Grimes, whom the party aggressively courted to challenge McConnell.

The group has stopped running ads supporting her, a severe blow to Grimes' effort against a powerful incumbent opponent running a well-backed campaign.

In a statement issued three weeks before the Nov. 4 election and a day after the candidates' only debate, the DSCC said Tuesday that it had spent more than $2 million in Kentucky and continued to fund get-out-the-vote efforts. However, the committee made no commitment to go back on the air in support of Grimes, who has been pummeled by tens of millions of dollars in attack ads by McConnell and his allies.

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The committee's decision was in strong contrast to its activities in other states with pivotal Senate races. Democrats continued to spend freely in Iowa, Georgia, North Carolina and other states as they tried to block a Republican drive to gain a Senate majority.

Grimes' campaign continued to air its own ads – including one that accuses McConnell of supporting amnesty for three million immigrants living in the country illegally., a liberal political action committee, on Tuesday called on Grimes to pull the ad because it refers to undocumented immigrants as "illegal aliens."

Other groups that favor more lenient policies addressing illegal immigration also assailed Grimes.

“Immigration reform is a critical issue that will require leadership and political courage to do the right thing,” said Cristóbal Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, a group co-founded by actress Eva Longoria. “To see a candidate from either party use this kind of language in advertising is unacceptable in 2014, and we condemn this attempt by Alison Lundergan Grimes to play ugly politics with an issue so important to our community and the nation.”

McConnell has been plagued by low approval ratings, and he has sought to turn the election into a referendum on President Barack Obama, who is even more unpopular in the state. Grimes has responded throughout the campaign by distancing herself from the president as well, a tactic that until recently seemed to be paying off in the polls.

In recent days, the issue of Obama moved to the top of the daily back-and-forth, with Grimes refusing to say if she voted for Obama in 2008 or 2012, even though she was a delegate for Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

During their televised debate Monday night, Grimes repeatedly criticized the five-term Republican senator for running a campaign bankrolled by millionaires and billionaires. She repeated those themes Tuesday after speaking with supporters at an event in Florence, in northern Kentucky.

Grimes said of McConnell, "He can buy the airwaves, but he can't buy the hearts and minds of Kentuckians."

The challenger has proven to be a formidable fundraiser herself, besting McConnell by nearly $1 million in the second fundraising quarter. Her campaign announced Tuesday it had raised $4.9 million in the quarter ending Sept. 30, breaking her own state fundraising record. The campaign says it has $4.4 million in cash available to spend, more than any Democrat in a competitive U.S. Senate race.

Despite that, she has been outspent by McConnell and his network of super PACs by tens of millions of dollars.

Republicans who track the race also say Grimes is no longer benefiting from ads from the Senate Majority PAC, an independent group that is allied with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and has spent millions on competitive races. A spokesman for the group did not respond to requests for comment.

The United Mineworkers of America, which endorsed Grimes over McConnell, started running $318,000 worth of TV ads in the Evansville, Indiana, and Charleston, West Virginia, markets that cover much of Kentucky's coal fields.

At the same time, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, the super PAC supporting McConnell, launched yet another $1.2 million TV ad buy on Tuesday that again connects Grimes to Obama.

Grimes brushed off the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, telling reporters Tuesday that the group is "one letter shy of Koch brothers," a reference to the billionaire Republican donors who Democrats have turned into a symbol for campaign finance reform.

"I think that Kentuckians know my record as secretary of state has been one that has actually put the people first and broken through the gridlock to actually be an independent thinker that's gotten results for them," Grimes said. "That is what we have seen has resonated. They know it in their hearts."

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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