LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton said Tuesday that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell's opposition to raising the minimum wage is reason enough for Kentuckians to replace the five-term incumbent with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, a longtime Clinton family friend.
In his debut on the 2014 midterm campaign trail, Clinton cast Grimes as a problem solver who's got a plan to raise wages to help the middle class, veterans and others.
"She's got some ideas to actually do something," the former president told about 1,200 people gathered in a Louisville hotel. "May not make a juicy 30-second ad, doesn't have anything bad about her opponent, but it will make a big difference to America."
Without naming McConnell, Clinton suggested the GOP veteran is an obstructionist who's chosen to "just pout if your party's not in the White House and make as many problems as you can."
Clinton, who twice carried Kentucky as a presidential candidate, was doing more than lending political muscle to Grimes and other Democratic candidates as the party defends its Senate majority. The former president's support could also pay political dividends in two years, should his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, make her own White House bid.
For his part, McConnell welcomed Clinton to Kentucky.
"Every time he's come it's been really good for me," McConnell told reporters in Washington, pointing out that he handily defeated his Democratic rivals in each of his last two campaigns, even though Clinton had made appearances for them.
Tuesday's event in Louisville was the first of several Clinton plans to make on behalf of Democrats running in states where President Barack Obama and his health care law are unpopular. The former president did not mention Obama, but he did praise Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear's efforts to implement the Affordable Care Act.
The Louisville event raised about $700,000 for the Grimes campaign, a campaign official said Tuesday night. Heading into 2014, the McConnell campaign bank account totaled $10.9 million while Grimes had almost $3.5 million on hand, the respective campaigns said.
Grimes, the daughter of longtime Clinton friend Jerry Lundergan, introduced the former president by retelling the story of attending Clinton's inauguration at the age of 14 and giving the new president flowers.
Back then, she said, "the country was ready for a new, fresh Southern face vs. the old Washington one there too long part of the problem and institution," she told the crowd of more than 1,200 at the Galt House, a downtown hotel. "Sound familiar?"
Clinton, the last Democrat to carry Kentucky in a presidential election, said he urged Grimes to challenge McConnell and warned her that he is a "genius" about using conflict to win elections.
"What this is about is whether you want somebody who puts people first, who cares about rebuilding the middle class, who wants poor people to have a chance to work their way into the middle class and who believes we should cooperate with anybody that's got a good idea to move forward," Clinton told the crowd.
"Or," he continued, "we should stay with this model of constant conflict which will generate unlimited amounts of special interest money to keep people stuck in their ideological ruts."