Columbus Day felt a lot more like Groundhog Day in Kentucky on Monday night.
We still don’t know whether Alison Lundergan Grimes voted for President Obama, even though she was a delegate for him at the 2012 convention.
And it is still unclear how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would simultaneously reopen the amendment process in the Senate while not allowing votes on “all these gosh darn proposals” like raising the minimum wage.
Grimes and McConnell met Monday night in their first and only televised debate of the cycle in a face-off that produced few memorable sound bites, broke almost no new ground, and reflected a maddening continuation of attack talking points of dubious veracity.
Aside from some blushing and chuckling over McConnell’s repeated use of the word “rimracked,” which Urban Dictionary will helpfully define for you, there wasn’t much obscene or sexy about the highly anticipated debate between the two candidates.
Stephen Voss, a political-science professor at the University of Kentucky, declared McConnell the winner, telling the Lexington Herald-Leader that “McConnell owned the debate.”
The Grimes camp, of course, immediately declared via press release: “Grimes trounces McConnell; holds him accountable at every turn.”
The bottom line, as it relates to the November election, is probably somewhere in the middle.
Grimes, who almost never answers a question about her policies without attacking McConnell, was throwing haymakers throughout the evening, having spent the last several days on her heels after she refused to tell the Louisville Courier-Journal’s editorial board whether she voted for Obama.
In the days leading up to the 60-minute showdown, political analysts around the country speculated that Grimes would surely huddle with her consultants and find a good way to answer the question, even though McConnell would no doubt turn it into an attack ad before the sun came up.
That speculation turned out to be wrong.
Grimes again repeatedly refused to answer the question, using the “sanctity of the ballot box” and her position as the state’s chief elections officer as reasons for not answering.
“If I as chief elections officer don’t stand up for that right, who in Kentucky will?” Grimes said.
When moderator Bill Goodman of Kentucky Education Television asked her why she was so reluctant to answer the question (McConnell was quick to boast he voted for Mitt Romney and John McCain), Grimes responded: “There’s no reluctance. This is a matter of principle.”
Goodman made a valiant effort at rattling McConnell on that front by asking him who he voted for in Kentucky’s 2010 Republican primary.
You might recall that race was between McConnell’s handpicked successor to retiring Sen. Jim Bunning, Trey Grayson, and the man McConnell has called the most credible presidential candidate from Kentucky since Henry Clay, Rand Paul.
The problem with Grimes’s answer is that she had no problem telling Austin Ryan, who interviewed Grimes as part of a documentary for KET and the University of Kentucky, that she voted for Hillary Clinton in Kentucky’s 2008 Democratic primary.
Ultimately, who Grimes voted for in the last two presidential elections isn’t going to be what decides this race. What has hurt Grimes throughout is who won the presidency and how Kentucky views him.
The president’s approval ratings hover around 30 percent in Kentucky, and McConnell has all but physically sewn Obama to Grimes.
On the flip side of that coin, the positions McConnell takes that make liberal Democrats shake with rage—on climate change, health care, the minimum wage—were on full display Monday night.
The senator repeated his statement that he hasn’t said anything in private that he hasn’t said in public.
While it’s true that McConnell has been consistent throughout the race in opposing raising the minimum wage—one of Grimes’s central campaign arguments—he has also said in interviews and on the Senate floor that he favors a return to an open amendment process.
The last claim is difficult to reconcile with McConnell’s vow to a Koch brothers retreat, secretly recorded and reported by left-leaning publications, that if he becomes Senate majority leader, the Senate won’t be voting on “all these gosh darn proposals.”
“So you were consistently against helping people here in Kentucky getting a living wage?” Grimes asked.
Hammering the idea that McConnell is beholden to “millionaires and billionaires,” Grimes repeatedly aimed to portray McConnell as beholden to wealthy special interests.
It just seemed Monday night, as it has throughout, that her aim was off.
In perhaps her best dig of the night, Grimes accused McConnell of making the remarks to his “family,” the Koch brothers, after he “asked them to help him buy his way back to Washington, D.C.”
McConnell also continued his incredible argument that Kentucky’s successfully implemented health-care exchange, Kynect, is just a website that was funded by a federal grant and that the exchange could still exist even after “Obamacare” is repealed “root and branch.”
But there again, Grimes’s fear of being tied to Obama or Obamacare and her refusal to articulate her own position made it difficult to hit McConnell on his fudged explanation. Instead, she fell back on her stock answer that there are parts of the law that need to be fixed.
If there were fireworks—think snakes and sprinklers instead of Fourth of July—they came when Grimes assailed McConnell for “becoming a multimillionaire on the backs of hardworking Kentuckians.”
McConnell responded: “I can’t let that stand.”
“She knows that is a result of an inheritance, that my wife’s mother passed away, and she persistently says that,” he said.
Grimes has been criticized by fact-checkers for suggesting in ads that McConnell became wealthy because of his service in the Senate. The truth is that the majority of McConnell’s wealth belongs to his wife, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.
Chao’s father, a Taiwanese immigrant who became a shipping magnate, gave the couple a significant financial gift when the two were married, and the bulk of their wealth was the result of an inheritance they received when Chao’s mother died.
“If I had to pick the worst moment for Grimes, it’s the discussion of McConnell being a multimillionaire,” Voss said. “He not only shot her argument down cleanly and factually, in a way regular people could easily understand, her tone didn’t cast her in a favorable light.”
Over the course of the 60-minute debate, Grimes interrupted McConnell repeatedly, apparently trying to shift the narrative away from who she voted for and rattle him.
The day before Grimes’s disastrous showing with the Courier-Journal editorial board last week, McConnell made a misstep of his own, drawing fire and ridicule from the left for a “needlessly angry” performance on the popular Kentucky sports program Kentucky Sports Radio.
But the senator never took the bait and subsequently avoided his own Rick Lazio moment, allowing Grimes to finish interrupting him before he patiently duct-taped an Obama mask on her head.
Ultimately, there was little damage done to either candidate that hasn’t already been done, and the question that will be answered on Nov. 4 is who Kentuckians dislike more: Obama or McConnell.
If there’s a bonus question, it’s who Grimes will vote for.