WASHINGTON (AP) — A throat cancer survivor quietly praises Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell in two new ads, the first major buy of the Republican leader's campaign for a sixth term against challenges from the right and left.
"These days, I don't have much of a voice. But I - and so many Kentuckians - have been helped by someone with a strong voice. Mitch McConnell," says Robert Pierce, who was exposed to radiation while working at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant from 1975-2001 and developed cancer in 1998.
Pierce credits McConnell with ensuring the establishment of a cancer screening program and compensation for sick workers. The ads end with McConnell, dressed casually in a sweater vest, shaking hands with Pierce.
"Mitch McConnell is a caring and powerful voice for Kentucky's working families. And having a strong voice matters," Pierce says.
Democrats dismissed the ad, arguing that it's nearly identical to one that McConnell ran in 2008. The campaign of Democratic rival Alison Lundergan Grimes complained that McConnell was slow to respond to workers' health problems and pointed to his recent vote against a massive spending bill that included $265 million for cleanup at the Paducah plant.
"It is insulting to Kentuckians for McConnell to haul out this old, dishonest play every six years when he's on the ballot," said Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton.
The McConnell campaign said he got the money for a medical monitoring program for the Paducah plant workers and retirees, including a mobile CT scan to screen for early stages of cancer.
McConnell is bidding not only for another term but hoping to secure a Republican takeover of the Senate, where Democrats have the edge 55-45. His campaign is investing in the mid-six figures on the commercials that highlight McConnell's leadership role as well as casting him as a champion for the working man.
McConnell is one of six Senate Republicans facing tea party-backed challengers in the primaries, underscoring the split between establishment Republicans and outside conservative groups who criticize GOP incumbents for a lack of ideological purity.
McConnell faces businessman Matt Bevin, who got the endorsement of the conservative group FreedomWorks on Wednesday. The Senate Conservatives Fund and Madison Project, two other conservative organizations, also back Bevin.
In a statement, Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks PAC, complained about McConnell's support for NSA surveillance, the 2008 Wall Street bailout and debt ceiling increases.
"Now more than ever, we need strong fiscal conservatives who will fight to cut spending on the front lines, not the sidelines," Kibbe said. "Matt Bevin is a great upgrade for Kentuckians who are serious about transparency, fiscal responsibility and accountability in government."
The Kentucky primary is May 20.
Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner in Frankfort, Ky., contributed to this report.