In a few minutes, Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky will meet with the editorial board of the Courier-Journal in Louisville. Campaign memos recently obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD show how Grimes and her staff prepare for these meetings, requiring the red-state Democrat to walk a delicate tightrope between the liberal sensibilities of the journalists and Kentucky’s conservative culture.
The memos, which were drafted on September 26 to prepare Grimes for today’s meeting with the Courier-Journal as well as an October 14 meeting with the Kentucky Enquirer outside Cincinnati, are addressed to the candidate and provide her with background material on local and national issues, talking points for her to use on those issues, information about the newspaper, and photos and biographies of the members of the editorial boards. The memo describes the Courier-Journal as having “a wide reach with a large, liberal audience” and mentions the possibility the paper could endorse Grimes.
One heading in the memo, labeled “GUN COMMERICAL – DISAGREE WITH PRESIDENT ON GUNS,” directs Grimes to say she disagrees with Obama on gun control. “We shouldn't be banning guns based on things like their grips as a bill supported by Obama tried to do,” reads one bullet point. The heading refers to a TV ad Grimes released last month, which shows the Democrat shooting clay pigeons in a field while her voiceover rebuts charges from her Republican opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell. “I’m not Barack Obama,” Grimes says, lowering her shotgun and turning toward the camera. “I disagree with him on guns, coal, and the EPA.”
But at the editorial board meeting, Grimes is encouraged—“ONLY IF PUSHED,” the memo insists—to scale back the red-meat rhetoric. She’s directed to concede that guns should be kept out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill and that she believes in “strengthening our background check system” and “putting more money into education” on gun safety. The memo for the meeting with the Enquirer staff uses the exact same language on guns. There is an additional heading on the issue of “closing the gun show loophole,” though there appear to be no talking points about that topic.
There are other issues on which Grimes’s campaign isn’t clear what her position is. In the Courier-Journal memo, the campaign provides Grimes with two talking points on health care: the first repeats her position that she has “concerns” with Obamacare and would like to fix them but does not support repealing the law entirely, while the second argues that hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians would lose their health insurance if the law were repealed. Under the “IF PUSHED” heading, there are no talking points.
Grimes is also provided with an editorial published in the Courier-Journal urging the country’s elected officials to “fight” climate change. Her talking points on climate change give the requisite mention of Kentucky’s coal industry before saying she “recognize(s) the reality of climate change and the imperative of addressing its potential consequences.” Grimes is told to focus on how the national response should be “balanced” among three concepts: “The need to find solutions while protecting American and Kentucky jobs and our economic well-being; The steps that the United States and developed countries should take with the obligations of nations with emerging economies but high levels of pollution; The requirement for a disciplined federal budget with the importance of funding research into technologies that will alleviate global warming.”
Grimes is also directed to say that climate change is “an issue of bottomless complexity that cannot simply be relegated to sound bites.” Her opponent, Mitch McConnell, has been criticized in recent days for responding to questions about climate change by pointing to the complex debate over its existence and by telling reporters he’s “not a scientist.”
There are some issues for which Grimes is directed to change her emphasis from one newspaper to the other. On medical marijuana legalization, for instance, Grimes is told her message for the Courier-Journal editorial board is that she opposes legalizing drugs but that she is “in favor of having the discussion of reclassification, especially for medicinal purposes.”