Alison Lundergan Grimes: Fact or fantasy?

In the midst of a season which finds Republicans knuckling down and focusing on anywhere from six to ten Senate seats which they may be able to flip this fall, it’s worth remembering that the Democrats are not asleep at the wheel. They have their eyes on holding on to their slim Senate majority by their fingernails with one race in particular whetting their appetites… and it’s none other than the Senate Majority Minority Leader’s. But is Mitch McConnell actually in danger? There’s reason for him to be concerned, no doubt, but Matt Lewis has been doing some digging and finds that Democrat hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes may not be quite as fearsome as the media portrays her.

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.

Matt checks in on reporter Sam Youngman, who has some lengthy experience both inside the beltway and back home in the Bluegrass State. With an insider’s view, he seems to feel that Grimes’ organization leaves a lot to be desired.

“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.”

This isn’t some revelation of a newly discovered scandal or some other definitive, disqualifying historical note. Rather, it’s a sense among observers that Grimes has surrounded herself with some amateurs – or at least relatively green politicos – who don’t seem to be on top of what’s needed to bring a high profile race like this one over the finish line. And as much as we’d like to think that elections are all about the pure qualities of the candidates and the better angels of the voters, campaign skills matter. The beltway is littered with the virtual bodies of many otherwise fine candidates who may have served their constituents well, but simply weren’t prepared for the trench warfare of modern politics on the trail.

McConnell is in a tough fight, no matter how unskilled his opponents may prove to be, but it’s not something he hasn’t seen before. Mitch won his last three races in 96, 2002 and 2008 in pretty much of a cakewalk, but a look deeper into history shows that he didn’t come from a position of having a glass jaw. In his first election to the Senate in 1984, McConnell had to beat a two term incumbent Democrat, and they had to stay up late on election day to find that he had won by only 5,200 votes out of more than 1.8 million. His first fight to defend the seat in 1990 against a former mayor of Louisville wasn’t much easier, resulting in a victory margin of 4.5%, still inside the margins of some election day polls.

He may need to draw on that experience to win this one if Grimes plays her cards well. The race is currently locked up, with a couple of polls even showing Grimes holding on to a fractional lead. Also, McConnel has become very unpopular with a lot of conservatives over the last year or two (with evidence of that showing up in the Hot Air comments section on a regular basis), so turning out the base may not be a given. But there’s a long way to go still, and plenty of time for mistakes to be made by Grimes. Over the summer we may find out whether Youngman’s analysis proves prescient and the demands of the campaign lead to the challenger’s team dropping the ball.

UPDATE: (Jazz) Ooops. McConnell isn’t the Majority Leader … yet. Corrected above.