Beware of the "Stealth Liberals"

So if Alison Lundergan Grimes seems reluctant to embrace Obama, there may be a reason for that: she wants to win. This year, it seems like that’s something only stealth liberals do.

Liberals are finally fed up with Alison Lundergan Grimes. The Kentucky secretary of state and Democratic challenger to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t had an easy go of it. And as the race enters the homestretch, she is taking some friendly fire.

“Alison Lundergan Grimes is running the worst Senate campaign of the year,” says the headline of a recent Jason Zengerle piece in The New Republic. Soon after it appeared, a Grimes ad was denounced by MoveOn.Org and the Howard Dean-founded Democracy for America, because she used the phrase “illegal aliens.”

“I’ve never supported amnesty or benefits for illegal immigrants, and I never will,” Grimes says in the ad. She supports the Senate comprehensive immigration reform legislation widely regarded as amnesty for illegal immigrants.

In addition to “amnesty-gate,” liberals have rapped Grimes for her embarrassing refusal to say whether she voted for Barack Obama in 2012 (though perhaps not as harshly as Chuck Todd). Grimes was an Obama delegate that year, but the president lost Kentucky by 23 points.

“It seems like a safe assumption that if you’re currently a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, you voted for Barack Obama two years ago,” wrote Zengerle. “And if you’re a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate who also served as a delegate for Obama at the 2012 Democratic Convention? Well then, yeah, it’s a very good bet you pulled the lever for the president that year.”

A separate TNR piece by Alec MacGillis criticized Grimes for not running more heavily on Obamacare, on the grounds that many Kentuckians have gained coverage from it. It’s probably not great advice, but given McConnell’s own defensive crouch on the Kentucky Obamacare exchange, it’s not a completely absurd suggestion.

Yet in a state that’s increasingly red for federal as opposed to state offices, some polls still find Grimes essentially tied with McConnell even though national Democrats have bailed on the race by pulling ads from the state.

While the polling averages still suggest she’ll lose, the premature Grimes recriminations have as much to do with her not utilizing national Democratic talent or being accessible enough to Washington liberal publications as the political conditions in Kentucky. McConnell is still polling below 50 percent for a seat he’s held since the Reagan administration.

Part of that is because McConnell isn’t terribly popular for a longtime incumbent. But as absurd as her machinations sometimes seem, Grimes is employing the strategy that has worked best for Democrats in an otherwise Republican year: stealth liberals are the best kind.

Think of every other race where Democrats are surprisingly competitive this year, an election cycle where Obama’s party is struggling to hold on to governorships in places like Massachusetts.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts is suddenly in trouble because his challenger Greg Orman is an independent, not a Democrat. Orman has a history as a Democrat, including thousands of dollars in donations to party figures like Harry Reid and contemplating a previous Senate campaign on the Democratic line. The son of liberal billionaire George Soros is a major Orman financial booster.

But Orman isn’t running as a Democrat. He claims he is open to caucusing with Senate Republicans if they are the majority party after the election. And he is benefitting from a number of moderate Republicans who are already considering voting against Sam Brownback, their party’s incumbent governor.

Or consider the South Dakota Senate race, where Republicans are still favored, but not as much as expected. Former Sen. Larry Pressler is running as an independent and has polled as high as 32 percent of the vote. Pressler was a conservative Republican during his previous stint in the Senate, and some voters are presumably backing him on that basis.

But Pressler has said he would be a friend to Obama, whom he endorsed twice for president. What he hasn’t said is which party he would caucus with if he won. And his presence in the race is the only reason Democrats have even the faintest hope of picking up the Senate seat.

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