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The Old Stone Inn in Simpsonville was crowded to capacity Wednesday night with people who turned out to show their support for Sen. Mitch McConnell.
McConnell arrived on his bus as part of a campaign re-election tour around 8 p.m., received a warm welcome from at least 100 people, including numerous local officials as well as State Sen. Gary Tapp and Rep. Brad Montell, who also is running for re-election.
McConnell, who is locked in a heated race with Democrat Bruce Lunsford, was accompanied by his wife, United States Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, who gave him a rousing build-up before his speech.
“I didn't get married until I was 39 years old, and I asked the Lord to please just give me a good man,” she said, in her introduction of her husband.
“I asked him to please just give me a man with character and integrity, and he did; he blessed me with Mitch. He's all of that and more. He even does his own laundry, and he cooks, too.”
When McConnell took the podium, he drew laughter from the crowd as he quipped, “Well, I hate to interrupt her; I kind of wanted her to keep on going.”
McConnell stressed his ties to Shelby County when he spoke of his late parents, who spent the last decade of their lives on Sequoia Road, and commented upon the growth of the Republican party in Shelby County in past years.
“When I first started coming out here, there wasn't any Republicism to speak of, but now we've got Brad Montell and Senator Gary Tapp and the county judge and others at the courthouse,” he said. “My, how things have changed. And it really is a tribute to all of you and the great work you have done in turning this into a two-party area.”
He spoke of the closeness of the senate race, saying that he's sure that people are wondering why he's having such a tough race this term.
“I'm the same guy that six years ago got 65 percent of the vote and carried 113 out of 120 counties, and in my line of work, that's about as good as it gets,” he said. “But what's different now is that I'm the leader of the Republican party in the senate, and I've been chosen unanimously two years ago to lead my colleagues, and I'm a much bigger target than I used to be.”
The only other Sentate leader from Kentucky was Alben Barkley, who led the Democrats from 1937 to 1949.
McConnell also alluded to negative campaign tactics being used by his opposition.
“A lot of those nasty attack ads that you've seen on television have been paid for by people in New York and Chicago and San Francisco, and I'm confident that nobody from San Francisco is going to elect the next senator from Kentucky,” he said.
He also explained why he did not meet Lunsford's challenge to debate him.
“We had three debates, the same number as the presidential candidates,” he said. “And more senate debates than we've had in a quarter of a century here. So I think that if three was enough for the presidential candidates, I expect it was enough for Kentucky.”
McConnell also talked about how much money he has appropriated for the state, citing a study that was done earlier in the year that looked at how much democratic senators have delivered in congressional funds to their home states.
“And they picked a guy from Pennsylvania, a state about four times as big as ours, and said he had done the best,” he said. “He brought in $16 million for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Well, the guy you're looking at, the Republican leader of the senate — your senator — brought home for the commonwealth alone $500 million last year."
Of that, $63 million went to Shelby County, he added.
McConnell talked about his endorsements, which include the Fraternal Order of Police and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Political Action Committee.
“He's treated veterans in his business, and I've treated them with my vote in the senate,” he said.
He concluded by urging everyone to vote on Election Day.
“You will never have a bigger election than this one,” he said. “The U.S. Senate race in Kentucky has national and international implications. So there's a lot on the line, and this race is being watched, not just in Kentucky, but all over the country.”
McConnell was first elected to the senate in 1984 and was first Republican to win a statewide race in Kentucky since 1968.
In 2002, he won a fourth term with 65 percent of the vote, the largest margin of victory for a Republican in Kentucky in history.