Kentucky Senate Hopeful Flashes Bill Clinton Trump Card

PHOTO: From left, Bill Clinton in New York, Feb. 13, 2014 and Alison Lundergan-Grimes in Frankfort, Ky., Nov. 8, 2011.Michael Stewart/Getty Images | John Flavell/AP Photo
From left, Bill Clinton in New York, Feb. 13, 2014 and Alison Lundergan-Grimes in Frankfort, Ky., Nov. 8, 2011.

In Kentucky, Democrats are brushing off the partisan criticism of former President Bill Clinton, and apparently, are opening their checkbooks.

Clinton plans to address some 1,200 people at a sold-out fundraiser in Kentucky today on behalf of Senate hopeful Alison Lundergan Grimes, bringing his political clout to one of the most closely watched and contentious Senate contests of this election cycle.

"It has surpassed what we thought it would do," said Dale Emmons, a longtime friend and political advisor of Lundergan Grimes, though he wouldn't say yet how much the fundraiser would likely bring in. "It's been a real catalyst to get people to write a check to the campaign."

Despite the efforts of some Republicans to raise the ghost of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Clinton is likely to be greeted with an enthusiastic welcome by Democrats in the Bluegrass State as he campaigns for a longtime political and family friend.

"People still like Bill Clinton," said Bill Garmer, a former chairman of the Kentucky Democratic Party. "He's probably the most popular Democratic person in Kentucky."

Like a handful of other Democrats running in tough races south of the Mason-Dixon line, Lundergan Grimes is hoping to capitalize on the fact that Clinton, a former Arkansas governor, is one of the few Democrats who still speaks the language of the American south.

In Kentucky, the former president is considered one of their own. He won the state twice and has deep political connections there -- including with Lundergan Grimes and her father, former state legislator and Kentucky Democratic party chairman Jerry Lundergan.

Clinton has advised Lundergan Grimes and endorsed her candidacy in an early campaign video, and he is considered an uncle figure.

The stock of Democrats in the Clinton mold is also very high in Kentucky, Lundergan Grimes' supporters say. Her aim is to walk in Clinton's footsteps all the way to the Senate.

"He sees in Alison an opportunity to nurture and propagate someone who will be able to do those types of things in the future," Emmons said. "The Clintons are a known quantity here and an acceptable quantity here in terms of elected office.

"A lot of people here want to go back to the Clinton economy," Emmons said.

At 35, Lundergan Grimes was brought up in the thick of things in Kentucky politics and presidential politics by virtue of her father, a longtime Clinton ally and contributor.

She is already the only woman to hold a state constitutionally mandated office in Kentucky as secretary of state, but she is seeking to now become the first woman elected to federal state-wide office in Kentucky. To do that, she'll have to unseat the most powerful Republican in the Senate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell's campaign, however, has suggested that the Clinton magic is anything but potent when it comes to the only contest that matters: the one on Election Day.

"Democrats have brought Bill Clinton to Kentucky for nearly every election since he was President," said McConnell campaign spokesman Allison Moore in a statement. "And every time Bill Clinton has come to Kentucky, whether it was to campaign for himself or another candidate, he's left with Mitch McConnell receiving nearly 100,000 votes more than him or his chosen candidate."

That hasn't stopped Republicans from looking for opportunities to dampen the potential impact of Clinton's fundraising and campaigning efforts in 2014, and by the same token putting a dent in Hillary Clinton's potential 2016 presidential ambitions.

When new documents collected by a close, now deceased friend, revealed Hillary Clinton's most personal thoughts about the Monica Lewinsky scandal, it thrust the 15-year old controversy back into the spotlight and raised questions about whether the Clintons' baggage could hurt 2014 candidates and Clinton in 2016.

All this comes at a time when Democrats throughout the South are struggling to hang on or forge a new path to victory that can carry on the legacy of a dying breed of Southern Democrats.

But in another race where the Clintons are likely to loom large, the closely watched Arkansas Senate race between Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and freshman GOP Rep. Tom Cotton, the impact of the residual Lewinsky drama is likely to be minimal, Arkansas's Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe told ABC News.

"He has a following and he still has folks that he can still influence," Beebe said of Clinton.

Clinton, however, remains a divisive force. He motivates Democrats and is a powerful financial force, but Beebe acknowledged that he's unlikely to switch many votes.

"There's no question that Bill Clinton was the center and the focus of a lot of negative activity that surrounded Lewinsky and then even before that," Bebee said. "But the policies that were implemented and the bipartisan work are the very substance of what all these people [Republicans] are beating their chest saying we ought to be doing.

"So if they got any sense at all they need to look at what happened and try to emulate it," he added.

In recent weeks, an anti-Clinton crusade has been waged by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a political ally of McConnell's. He argued strenuously in several media interviews that Democrats who take money Clinton raises should return it, and that Clinton's presence on the campaign trail puts a dent in the party's "War on Women" message.

Some conservatives, even those who believe the Clintons' history is on the table in 2014 and 2016, chalk it up to Paul's 2016 presidential ambitions.

"Rand Paul is the guy that needs to make inroads with social conservatives," conservative talk radio host Steve Deace said. "This gives him an opportunity to do that."

Lundergan Grimes' allies, on the other hand, suspect that he's playing bad cop on behalf of his political ally, McConnell.

"I think its part of Rand Paul being the bad guy for Mitch McConnell," Garmer said. "It's quintessential Rand Paul being what [Arizona Senator] John McCain calls a 'waco bird'."