FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — President Barack Obama is playing a starring role in Kentucky's fierce Senate race, with new ads putting him at the center of the contest for Republican Mitch McConnell's seat despite Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes' explicit effort to distance herself from the unpopular president.
"I'm not Barack Obama," Grimes says in an ad that began airing Monday, in which she pauses her skeet shooting to talk to the camera. "I disagree with him on guns, coal and the EPA."
It was an attempt to flip the script on the fiercely fought race against McConnell, who's relentlessly tried to link Grimes to Obama. Fewer than 24 hours after Grimes' ad aired, McConnell responded in an effort to restore his national narrative. His ad argued that by serving as a delegate for Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Grimes supports the president's platform of national health insurance, emission restrictions on coal-fired power plants and a ban on assault weapons.
"You know who also did a publicity stunt firing a gun? Barack Obama," the narrator says before juxtaposing the footage of Grimes shooting skeet in her ad with a photo of Obama shooting skeet at Camp David last year.
The exchange comes as most public polls show the five-term McConnell with a consistent but narrow lead seven weeks before Election Day. Should Republicans gain the six seats required to control the Senate, McConnell would probably become the majority leader. His election-season strength is a reversal from earlier this year, when most polls showed Grimes leading a close race.
A recent CNN/ORC poll showed McConnell with a slight edge over Grimes of 4 percentage points. An NBC/Marist poll showed McConnell with an eight-point lead. That same polled showed 62 percent of Kentucky registered voters disapprove of Obama as president, up from 56 percent in May.
University of Kentucky political science professor Stephen Voss suggested that both ads this week represent a war between candidates trying to define each other.
"Here's what we know about voters," he said. "They use party like a brand name to assume what a candidate stands for, unless the candidate can find some way to break through and convince them otherwise."