LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes went on the attack again Tuesday with a new TV ad featuring an out-of-work Appalachian coal miner who questions Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's commitment to job growth.
The 30-second ad airing across Kentucky seeks to capitalize on McConnell's off-the-cuff comments to an eastern Kentucky newspaper in the spring.
The Beattyville Enterprise reported that the five-term Republican senator said it is "not my job" to bring employment to struggling Lee County, where the jobless rate was 11.1 percent in May. McConnell said his comments were taken out of context, but the newspaper editor stood by his story.
McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said the ad continued Grimes' "mischaracterizations and outright falsehoods."
Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett defended McConnell, saying it's "unfair and untrue" to blame the top Senate Republican for the loss of eastern Kentucky coal jobs.
In the Grimes ad, unemployed coal miner David Stanley of Putney, Kentucky, looks into the camera and says: "Mr. McConnell, in the last two years, we've lost almost half of our coal jobs in eastern Kentucky. Why'd you say it's not your job to bring jobs to Kentucky?"
Grimes, sitting next to Stanley, replies: "I couldn't believe he said that either."
The two were shown sitting outside a country store where a sign in the window says "Coal Feeds My Family." Grimes said job growth would be her top priority if elected to the Senate.
Bissett sought to deflect responsibility for the job losses in coal away from McConnell.
"I can say with great confidence that Senator McConnell and his staff have done everything they can to support Kentucky's coal miners and coal production," he said.
Bissett said McConnell's efforts have been stymied by the Kentuckian's counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
In touting the new ad, Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst called McConnell's job-related comment to the newspaper "a defining moment of this race."
"As our campaign continues highlighting this telling moment, more and more Kentuckians will be shocked to know that their senior senator honestly believes it is not his responsibility to bring jobs back to the commonwealth," Hurst said.
McConnell's campaign said that in his interview with the Beattyville newspaper, he mentioned protecting coal jobs and said he was interested in bringing public works projects to Kentucky.
McConnell points to President Barack Obama's environmental regulations for the setbacks in the coalfields. Bissett said those regulations "deserve a large part of the blame" for the loss of more than 7,000 direct mining jobs and nearly half the coal production in eastern Kentucky since 2011.
Grimes has also blasted the regulations aimed at cracking down on carbon emissions, but McConnell has relentlessly tried to link her to the Democratic president, who is unpopular in Kentucky.
Coal mining, a major industry in Kentucky, has emerged as a central issue in the Senate race. While much of the attention has been on federal environmental regulations, the Appalachian coal business is also facing higher production costs and competition from other coal basins and natural gas.
Grimes, in her first term as Kentucky's secretary of state, has released a jobs plan for Kentucky that includes raising the minimum wage, capitalizing on the state's natural resources, boosting job training, investing in infrastructure and expanding math, science and computer education.