Politics & Policy

Cleaning Up the Grimes

In the Gaffe Zone: Alison Lundergan Grimes (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Kentucky Democrat's campaign comes to the rescue time after time for untested candidate

If you want an answer about Alison Lundergan Grimes’s position, it might just be quicker to ask her staff than ask the Democratic 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 that have to follow up and clarify what she actually meant to say.

Grimes hasn’t been the smoothest candidates, even from the get-go: her seemingly unprepared campaign launch was marred with sloppiness, which included flanked by her banner for her 2011 effort for secretary of state as well as no website. Since announcing, she developed a reputation for notoriously dodging questions about a variety of issues.

Grimes’s repeated ducking tends to go one of two way, but often brings forth the same outcome. The first possibility is that she gives a non-answer, not staking out a position in any way, often times slamming McConnell. The second is that she gives an answer that is later dubbed a misspeak. Either way, her responses are shortly followed by some spokesperson clarifying what the candidate meant to say.

Her most recent stumble exemplifies this tendency. Earlier this month, a flustered Grimes failed to give a direct answer on four separate questions on if she supported President Obama’s $3.7 billion supplemental funding request for the border; she repeatedly answered as if she thought she was 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 completely uncertain about where she stood, and 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 no immigration reform, and does not support the president’s request “until there is a clear plan that outlines how these funds will be used,” echoing that of many Republicans. Nonetheless, a far cry from what Grimes initially said when asked.

Staffers have had to go to lengths 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 his just 9-minute interview alone.

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 clear up that Grimes opposed such legislation. And 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 about 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 ramps 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 who Grimes is: is she the one they see on the stump, or the lawmaker that her campaign says she is afterwards?

— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.

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