The differences between Sen. Mitch McConnell and Bruce Lunsford are being played out in TV ads, on Web sites and via a host of other places using all the usual tactics employed by politicians. McConnell, the Republican incumbent, touts his record as the longest serving U.S. Senator in Kentucky history, playing up his experience and expertise. Democrat Lunsford paints himself as the knowledgeable outsider ready to challenge politics-as-usual in D.C.
So what’s new? Not much, really. Both sides are on the attack in an attempt to fill the six-year post.
The McConnell Web site (www.teammitch.com) prominently features Mitch’s Bluegrass Blog, where voters can “get the daily campaign scoop and join Mitch’s online community blog.” This area mostly features videos attacking Lunsford and a few posts about McConnell, though the last date anything was posted to the “daily” site was Sept. 25.
The site also features “Kentucky Heroes: A tribute to those who make our state great,” a collection of videos narrated by McConnell about Kentuckians who, he says, embody what’s great about the commonwealth. One person is helping to safely dispose of chemical weapons, and another is focusing on developing 21st-century parks. These pieces offer little in the way of information about McConnell, his voting record or his positions on current issues.
With blogs like “Ditch Mitch” (www.ditchmitchky.com) and information about the senator available from organizations like Project Vote Smart (www.votesmart.org), it’s possible find a wide range of information about his 24 years in office.
Even though Lunsford doesn’t have a voting record that runs for multiple pages, he’s had enough experience in public office to give his campaign Web site (www.bruce2008.com) plenty of background material to share with voters. His site also features something McConnell’s doesn’t: positions on the issues.
In addition to an energy plan titled “Do More, Talk Less,” Lunsford lays out his views on the Iraq War, health care, rural Kentucky, retirement and a whole lot more.
Closely aligning himself with the Democratic Party and the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, many of Lunsford’s positions aren’t surprising. He’s touting himself as the Washington outsider who knows what matters to voters because he’s one of them.
“I’m not a politician in terms of an elected official,” Lunsford says. “I’ve had real world experience. I grew up on a farm in Northern Kentucky, I started out in public accounting, went to law school at Chase (Northern Kentucky University). I practiced law in Cincinnati for about five years.
“I built a small (hospital) business from three employees to about 62,000, spun off a couple of (health care) companies from it and all three companies are alive today, even though they did have a pretty rocky period from 1998 to 1999. But I learned from that as well.”
This I’m-one-of-you approach is featured on his Web site in a section called “On the Job,” where Lunsford describes schlepping boxes and pumping gas at various locations across the state. While working, he says he was doing his own reality check.
“(Gas stations) have a lot of steady traffic, no pun intended … you learn a lot about trends,” he says. “About three or four months ago I was talking about that when everybody’s in the middle of a (gas) crisis, they’re cutting back their usage dramatically. The percentage of people that were coming in to get $5 and $8 and $10 was pretty high. When I say pretty high, I mean 80 percent, plus.
“People don’t necessarily want to go to a filling station four or five times a week, so they were doing their own personal rationing. And a couple months later the statistics began to show demand was down dramatically.”
Being in touch with what people need and want is a key message for Lunsford. Concerns about fuel costs — recently joined by concerns about the economy, rapidly shrinking retirement savings, the undue influence of corporate interests and the current economic meltdown — have turned voters into victims, he says.
“We have a country today that 25 years ago had usury laws,” Lunsford says. “The reason we had usury laws was to keep stuff like this from happening. Today you have an open sea that says, ‘Do as you wish.’ We have taken all of the regulation out of the financial industry, whether it’s pay-day lending, whether it’s credit cards, whether it’s banking.”
Lunsford’s solution for this and most other problems is simple.
“You stop the politics that Mitch McConnell has expounded on for 24 years,” he says. “You stop the pay-to-play. If industry doesn’t drive your vote, that’s going to force you to look at the alternatives fairly and objectively. (Pay-to-play) is what many have done up there (in Washington), both Republican and Democrat.
“If we don’t stop that, we’re not gonna get our debt down. We’re not gonna improve our environment. We’re not gonna get our heath care system straightened out. And we’re not gonna get the financial crisis straightened out.
“My children and my grandchildren are going to have to pay for my generation because we’ve been selfish. No one is more of a poster boy of that than Mitch McConnell. He and (President) Bush, for the last eight years, have created irreparable damage to our country from a world-view standpoint and an economic standpoint.”
Questions about Lunsford’s experience persist despite his best efforts to address them. Can someone who used to be part of the health care industry help bring about needed reform? Is a businessman the best person to safeguard the interests of consumers? Is his experience as head of the Commerce Cabinet/Legislative Liaison/Deputy Development Secretary under Gov. John Y. Brown enough experience?
At least Lunsford is willing to take a crack at answering the questions. McConnell has been “very busy” lately, his staff told CityBeat, and did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.