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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes ended months of speculation, Internet rumors and hallway chatter by announcing Monday that she will run for the U.S. Senate, marking the first prominent Democratic challenger to U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in the 2014 election.
After thanking her supporters, Grimes went on to say: "We have had a great conversation and determined and decided that we can next make the best move, the best difference in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, by running for the U.S. Senate."
Noticeably absent from Grimes' news conference were key Kentucky Democrats, including Gov. Steve Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway and House Speaker Greg Stumbo. Grimes campaign advisor, Jonathan Hurst, said they will be invited to the "official announcement later this month." (It should be noted two former governors, Julian Carroll and Martha Lane Collins, stood next to Grimes Monday. Other rank-and-file state lawmakers also attended).
During her brief news conference, Grimes took only two questions from reporters. She was asked about how she would prepare to take on McConnell, a five-term Senator who has more than $8 million in campaign cash on hand, according to federal campaign finance records.
"I will tell you that I was an underdog in the office of Secretary of State race and I am no stranger to being an underdog. (McConnell's) ads are based out of fear of losing his 30 year grip on power," Grimes told reporters.
Grimes had been mentioned as the best hope for Democrats for taking Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's seat in next year's election. Her father, Jerry Lundergan, is a former state Democratic party chairman and close friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Grimes says her delay in announcing was caused by due diligence not reluctance. Congressman John Yarmuth told WDRB News last month that he had not talked to Grimes but thought her delay might have had something to do with campaign finance issues.
"There is some thought that Alison if she makes a decision to run won't announce it until July 1st because of the fact she would have to file a fundraising report which would show her with very little money," Yarmuth told WDRB's Bennett Haeberle on June 18th.
Grimes' potential road to McConnell's seat begins with a Democratic primary against lesser-known candidates. Among them, Greg Leichty, a University of Louisville professor, who told WDRB News Monday night that he wants to "broaden" the Democratic platform to include term limits and ways to prevent "social inequality."
"It would take a miracle for any of the minor candidates in the race to win the primary, but we can influence the conversation," Leichty told WDRB News.
Bennie J. Smith, a musician, who is also running in the Democratic primary, says his volunteer work on political campaigns would serve him well in running a grassroots campaign.
"Mr. Mitch McConnell is always going to slash and burn. He's got that Whac--a-mole tactic, the voters are going to be the ones to vote," Smith said when asked if he was concerned with a lack of campaign financing.
Smith says if elected, he wants to bring a rapid rail system to Kentucky and work to create more jobs.
Grimes had considered getting into the race for several months. Both her supporters and her opponents had said she would need to make a decision to run quickly to begin fundraising.
Grimes met privately with supporters before the 3 p.m. news conference.
Immediately after Grimes' announcement, Sen. McConnell released a statement:
"Accepting the invitation from countless Washington liberals to become President Obama's Kentucky candidate was a courageous decision by Alison Lundergan Grimes and I look forward to a respectful exchange of ideas. The next sixteen months will provide a great opportunity for Kentuckians to contrast a liberal agenda that promotes a war on coal families and government rationed health care with someone who works everyday to protect Kentuckians from those bad ideas. Together we've invested a lot to ensure that Kentucky's voice in the U.S. Senate is heard from the front of the line rather than the back-bench and I intend to earn the support to keep it there."
A conservative group has been running a pre-emptive TV ad attacking Grimes. It links her to President Barack Obama by calling her the president's "cheerleader" in Kentucky. The ad says Obama and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid are looking for senators to "jam through" the president's agenda. On Monday, Grimes said those ads are based on fear.
Kentucky Republicans routinely try to connect Democrats with President Obama, who lost the state in his successful runs for the presidency.
Actress Ashley Judd had considered a run, but back in March decided to focus on her family. U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth had encouraged her to run.
Former Miss America Heather French Henry said on her blog Monday night that she had ruled out the race last week, citing her family and business obligations. She is married to former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry.