Meet Jerry Lundergan

by Eliana Johnson

Understanding Alison Lundergan Grimes’s Senate campaign requires understanding the role of her father, Jerry Lundergan, both in the campaign and in Kentucky politics more broadly. 

Over on the homepage, I write about Grimes’s race against Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, which has become the most expensive in the country. After an Ashley Judd trial balloon popped, then 34-year-old Grimes was handpicked by the Democratic party to run against McConnell. And she offers a striking contrast: She’s young, she’s pretty, and she exudes charisma. 

But Grimes, who had served as Kentucky’s secretary of state for less than two years when she announced her candidacy last summer, was at the time a relative political unknown. It was her father, Lundergan, a former state legislator and a two-time chairman of the Democratic party of Kentucky, who had the connections and power to boost her profile. Al Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky told me Lundergan is “effectively serving as chairman” of the Grimes campaign, which helps explain why Bill Clinton and Joe Biden have already traveled south to campaign with Grimes, and why Clinton is set to return to the state again this week. 

The central issue of Grimes’s campaign, neatly chronicled by the Washington Post’s Ben Terris, is the Republican party’s war on women. Grimes has effectively seized on a Republican strategist’s remark that she is “an empty dress,” using it to hammer McConnell and the GOP. Her spokesman called the remark “degrading and offensive” and demanded that McConnell denounce it.

Mark Leibovich wrote about the fake outrage that has been leveled on both sides of this race, and if that’s the name of the game in Kentucky, Jerry Lundergan may become a liability for his apparent difficulty speaking the language of gender equality. Grimes’s campaign rollout took place at a Lundergan-owned property, and Lundergan told a reporter afterwards, “That’s what daddies do for their little girls.” 

Lundergan also owns with his brothers the restaurant Hugh Jass Burgers, where a few menu items make reference to the women in his family: “Charlotte’s Rack” is a rack of ribs named after Lundergan’s wife, Charlotte, and “Abby’s Hugh Jass” is a hamburger named after his daughter, Abigail. Another menu item: “The Tiny Tush,” a smaller burger described as “6 ounces of juicy deliciousness.” I have a feeling Grimes might find that degrading and offensive.