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Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes will take the stage Monday night in Lexington for the first and only debate in one of the country’s marquee Senate races.
Both candidates are likely to face a question that they have struggled to answer throughout their campaigns.
Grimes' refusal to say if she voted for President Barack Obama went viral on Thursday, after the candidate declined to answer the question three times during an interview with the editorial board of The Courier-Journal.
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The criticism from local and national press and even some Democrats was so strong that a front-page story at the top of The Courier-Journal's Saturday edition was headlined “Grimes answer ridiculed.”
Grimes, though, is wary of any association with Obama, because Republicans in the state are hell-bent on linking Grimes to the president who is deeply unpopular here. Commercials from Crossroads GPS, a conservative PAC, and McConnell’s campaign repeatedly invoke Obama’s name and cast Grimes as his ally.
“In Washington, Alison Grimes would help Obama," the narrator in the Crossroads GPS ad intones. "She’s done it for years in Kentucky."
Interviewed by the Bowling Green television station WBKO Saturday, Grimes again refused to say if she voted for Obama, suggesting her non-response to the CJ was a calculated decision.
“I believe all Kentuckians understand the sanctity of the ballot box. It’s not about who I voted for 2 years ago or back in 08. It’s about who I will vote for when we go to Washington, D.C,” she told the station in an interview at an event in Russellville, Kentucky.
For his part, McConnell is likely to face questions about health care.
The senator has said he favors repealing Obamacare. But he has been repeatedly pressed on the impact that would have on Kentucky, which had a very successful rollout of the program, with more than 400,000 people now enrolled. Data released earlier this year from Gallup showed that Kentucky ranked second in reducing its uninsured population since Obamacare’s inception, behind only Arkansas.
McConnell has suggested the Bluegrass State can keep in place “kynect,” the name Kentucky has given its health care exchange, even if Obamacare is repealed. This is technically true, but also very misleading.
If Obamacare were repealed, the federal funds to expand Medicaid and offer subsidized health insurance for people through the exchanges would be gone. It’s unlikely Kentuckians would enroll through a health insurance program called “kynect” without the huge discounts in price that come from it being a part of the national health care law.