Entry written at Riverside Marina in Dayton (KY) on Saturday, September 13, 8:00 pm
Alison Lundergan Grimes entered my Whale Ship blog in the entry “Grand Contested Election and Unbearable Loss” in April 2014. She enters this blog on September 13, 2014, the day she came to northern Kentucky for separate events in Newport and Covington to kick-off the final stretch of her historic run to become a U. S. Senator from the state of Kentucky. Grimes is attempting to unset the thirty-year incumbent Mitch McConnell, minority leader of the Senate, comfortably poised to become majority leader of that body should his party pick up a few additional seats in the upcoming November elections. Should McConnell be upset by the thirty-something Grimes, he would become only the second presiding minority leader of the Senate to lose a re-election bid.
I have been canvassing for Grimes nearly every Saturday afternoon since returning from the Whale Ship voyage, so as soon as I heard that men were welcome at the luncheon held for her yesterday by the Women’s Network for Northern Kentucky, I decided to go. The event was held at the Syndicate restaurant in Newport and had to be moved to larger and larger rooms as the numbers swelled toward the end of the week. The Network’s luncheons usually draw about 35 people. This one drew at least 140. I know two leaders of the organization, Joan Gregory and Phyllis Schiff. I probably know only about seven more of the other 140 who entirely filled the room we were in, leaving about a dozen to eat at the bar. Grimes was opening her campaign headquarters in Lexington earlier in the day, so it was reported before we finally settled down to lunch than she would be later than expected. Shortly before she did arrive, we moved into a much larger room that accommodated our numbers more comfortably, and our pent up energy resounded in applause when she strode into the room in a smart white jacket above a short black skirt above brown leather boots and stood before the stained glass design of woman with flowing hair at the head of the room.
I had loved Alison as a candidate when I saw her at the Bellevue Vets after the primary in May and love her even more now. She is young, smart, savvy, and caring. She believes in what she can do and has done, equally in what Mitch McConnell cannot and has not. She worked the crowd in both venues today with honest, inspiring points, one after another. She had a few quick hits at Mitch, but she kept it serious and addressed substantial issues. She stressed women’s issues with the Women’s Network in Newport—after thanking them for having helped elect her as Secretary of State. Her active support for women who suffer from domestic violence (most recently by creating an absentee ballot with which victims can vote without having to be visible to the abuser on the way to the polling place) was highly appreciated by this audience. So was her advocacy for raising the mininimum wage, easing the loan burden for college students, and other female and family-oriented issues. At every point, she clearly articulated positions she has consistently held on the basis of true beliefs. In Covington, she addressed issues across the entire electorate, not just women, with equal passion and aplomb. I feel that any opportunity for her to debate McConnell will be highly advantageous to her, which is why he has been avoiding them, with only one so far scheduled.
In my canvases on Saturday afternoons I have been underwhelmed by the number of others going out from our staging area in Fort Thomas—usually only one other person there during my shift to get our marching orders from Maddie. The rousing, engaged audiences at both venues today suggests there will be a more passionate devotion to her cause, on the ground, than I have seen so far. McConnell has all the advantages of incumbency (although in his case quite a few disadvantages too). Grimes needs a big ground game here in northern Kentucky to overcome his likely high margins in the deeply conservative areas of eastern and western Kentucky. I certainly think her youth and relative vitality (in contrast to him) are advantages. So, it would seem, are her physical presence and beauty. Her smart, attractive outfit at the Syndicate today seemed perfect for appealing to Kentucky blue bloods as well as to the state’s increasing cadre of professional woman. McConnell had early on called her an “empty dress.” Someone who looks as good as she can declare with particular force and effectiveness (as she did today) that “this race will show that it’s not what’s in the dress that counts, but what’s up here in the head.”
I was impressed at both events by the time she took to shake hands with one follower after another, graciously posing for photo after photo. I waited for my turn in Covington and was glad I did, even though I was still wearing a large bandage from some skin cancer surgery early in the week. The surge of energy as she spoke to her followers, spilling out into the street after, made one feel we may well have a new U. S. Senator representing our state in Washington DC in 2015.
My normal shift for canvassing is from 3 to 6 on Saturday afternoon. On this Saturday the back-to-back events did not end until about 4:30 in Covington, so Maddie and the other local organizers decided to stay at the new headquarters there until 9 pm, giving us canvassers plenty of time in which to cover the ground we were assigned for the day. I was assigned this time to Dayton, immediately upriver from Bellevue, the river town in which I live. I worked from 4:30 to 7:30 on a beautiful fall afternoon on which many people were home, sometimes out on their porch, and generally welcoming to my visit. At this point we are targeting voters thought to be undecided, but I found a majority of those who answered the door to be either for Grimes or against McConnell, sometimes strongly both. These ranged from a young eighteen-year-old high-school graduate who will be voting for the first time to an octogenarian surrounded by two younger generations on the porch. Many of those I spoke to filled out our “Commit to Vote” card and one took the extra yard sign I had in the trunk. This will indeed be a “Grand Contested Election” like the one Ishmael alludes to in the opening chapter of Moby-Dick. It feels good the be playing even a small part in it.
Because the Grimes organizers would be in Covington until 9, I gave myself the pleasure when I was done canvassing of driving upriver from Dayton to the Riverside Marina for dinner. This restaurant is on a barge that moves easily up and down in response to the wakes from boats and barges passing by. In the shade as the sun was setting behind the high bank at this turn of the river, I could enjoy the chill of the oncoming autumn night as an antidote to moments of almost fevered excitement during the day. Just as I was about to pay the bill for my fish Hoagie and fries, the B&B riverboat floated silently upstream, its night lights just turned on in advance of the dusk, a magical grace note to an exciting day.
When I brought my packet back to the Covington headquarters shortly before 9, Maddie and her colleagues were indeed still at work. Before Alison had climbed into her black SUV for the next campaign stop in the afternoon, she had answered a long series of probing questions from a local reporter, protected by a serious security person who probably wondered who this guy with a camera was hanging around to take pictures. Actually, the crowds had been so tight all day, this had been my first chance to get a photo of her standing tall in those leather boots. I hope in November we can welcome her back for a victory party.