Wednesday, January 23, 2002

McConnell seeks 6 more years

Senator here for tour stop

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HEBRON — U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, seeking to become the longest-serving Republican senator from Kentucky, stopped here and in six other cities Tuesday as he announced his re-election campaign.

        If Mr. McConnell completes the fourth term he hopes to win in November, he would tie with former U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford, an Owensboro Democrat who retired in 1998, as the longest-serving senator from Kentucky.

        “I stand here today not as a Republican or a Democrat, but as your United States senator, to ask for six more years to serve you,” Mr. McConnell said as the crowd applauded.

        “Nearly two decades ago I went to the United States Senate with the goal of making a difference in the lives of my fellow Kentuckians,” he said. “I've worked hard to do just that ... to continue to roll up my sleeves, go to work every day and deliver for the great people of this commonwealth.”

        About 75 supporters — mostly GOP officeholders, candidates, party officials and activists — greeted Mr. McConnell and his wife, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, during his 20-minute stop at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

        “You going to give us six more years?” Kenton County Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn asked Mr. McConnell as he prepared to speak in a waiting area operated by Comair.

        “If you help me get there,” Mr. McConnell responded.

        Usually a fierce partisan, Mr. McConnell made no more mention of the Democratic Party or the two Democrats running in the May Senate primary: Lois Combs Weinberg of Hindman in eastern Kentucky, the daughter of former Kentucky Gov. Bert T. Combs; and Tom Barlow of Paducah, who served one term (1994-96) in the First Congressional District in western Kentucky.

        But Mr. McConnell did spend time promoting his accomplishments in education, which is a major part of Ms. Weinberg's campaign platform.

        Mr. McConnell said he “proudly supported” President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, a federal education bill Mr. Bush signed into law two weeks ago in Hamilton, Ohio.

        And Mr. McConnell talked about the legislation he sponsored that allows families to set up tax-free college savings plans for their children.

        Park Hills resident and GOP activist Trey Grayson, his wife, Nancy, and their daughter, Alex, joined Mr. McConnell for his announcement. The family has invested in a tax-free education account.

        “It's families like mine who, thanks to Senator McConnell's tireless efforts, area able to take advantage of tax-free college savings plans for our daughter,” Mr. Grayson said.

        Mr. McConnell sponsored the bill that made the savings program possible. But in a campaign appearance last week in Northern Kentucky, Ms. Weinberg said Mr. McConnell has let Kentucky teachers and students down with his past opposition to increased federal funding for education.

        Mr. McConnell did not take questions from reporters during his visit.

        Mr. McConnell claimed his accomplishments include:

        • $500,000 for Northern Kentucky's Metropolitan Education and Training Services work-force development center.

        • $750,000 for math and science programs at NKU.

        • $2.5 million for the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) to buy 16 new buses.

        • $200,000 for a flood feasibility study on Banklick Creek in northern Kenton County.

        • $9.5 million for a veterans cemetery in Williamstown, the Grant County seat.

        Ms. Weinberg has raised more than $1 million and is considered the Democratic front-runner, according to Charlie Cook, publisher of the Washington-based Cook Report political newsletter.

        But Mr. Cook, who rates Mr. McConnell's seat “safe” for the Republicans, said Ms. Weinberg will have a tougher time winning the election in November.

        “Although Kentucky leans slightly Democratic, McConnell is as good a strategist and tactician as one can find on Capitol Hill,” Mr. Cook writes in the 2002 edition of The Almanac of American Politics.

        “While Weinberg might provide an interesting contrast to McConnell, she is clearly an underdog,” he said.

        Mr. McConnell also traveled Tuesday to Frankfort, Hazard, Owensboro, Paducah, Louisville and Bowling Green.


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