Updated at 2:10 p.m. ET
Former President Bill Clinton made his first stop on the 2014 campaign trail on Tuesday in Louisville, Kentucky to raise money for Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat challenging the most powerful Republican in the Senate.
Grimes, the Kentucky secretary of state, is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in one of the most closely-watched Senate races this year. The former president joined her for a lunchtime fundraiser that about 1,200 people paid between $500 to $5,200 to attend.
Mr. Clinton was a close friend of Grimes’ father and was an early supporter of her campaign. He’s also the last Democratic presidential candidate who carried the state of Kentucky.
A recent Bluegrass poll shows Grimes with a slight edge over the five-term incumbent, beating McConnell 46 percent to 42 percent in a head-to-head matchup. The poll, conducted Jan. 30- Feb. 4, showed McConnell leading his tea party primary challenger Matt Bevin, 55 percent to 29 percent among registered Republicans.
The poll suggested that McConnell’s longtime service and leadership in the Senate may be more of a liability than an asset at this point. Sixty percent of Kentuckians said they disapprove of the job McConnell is doing while just 32 percent approve. McConnell’s job approval rating is slightly worse than President Obama’s -- 60 percent of Kentuckians disapprove of the job the president is doing while 34 percent approve.
That kind of polling makes it clear why Grimes may is recruiting Mr. Clinton to fundraise for her but is unlikely to invite Mr. Obama to join her on the campaign trail. When asked whether she’d want Mr. Obama to campaign with her, Grimes told NBC News, “I stand in stark contrast to the president and many of his ideas and platforms.”
Still, it will be hard for Grimes to distance herself from Mr. Obama and his agenda. In his remarks at the Tuesday fundraiser, Mr. Clinton spoke about the problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. He said that in a "sane environment" lawmakers would try to fix the law.
“The other choice is just pout if your party is not in the White House and make as many problems as you can, stop anything good from happening... When there’s a problem do everything you can to make sure the problem is never fixed,” he said, calling it a “dumb way to run a country.”
While the GOP links Grimes to Mr. Obama's agenda, they are also trying to complicate Grimes’ alliance with Mr. Clinton.
“I don't think he represents Kentucky values or Kentucky families in the sense that what he did in the workplace,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Monday at Simmons College, referring to Mr. Clinton’s extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky. “Anybody you would talk to, they would fire their president, they would fire any executive who did this to a young intern in the workplace so I don't think that was acceptable and I don't think that he's a great representative for Kentucky families or values."