Three Reasons Alison Grimes Should Accept the Evangelical Debate Invite

By Richard Nelson

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August 5, 2014

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"Always winter, never Christmas." That's how the characters in C.S. Lewis's classic fairy tale The Chronicles of Narnia described the frozen world they lived in. I'd like to adapt this, edit it somewhat and apply it to the McConnell-Grimes race: "Always election season, never debate."

How long can this go on? Here we are, exactly three months from decision time, and how many public debates do we have from the incumbent Republican and his Democratic challenger? Zero. This isn't just a failure of public politicking, it's a pitiful deadlock of the democratic process. While both sides shoulder responsibility, Mrs. Grimes has been unnecessarily evasive and uncompliant in negotiations with the McConnell campaign. An incumbent naturally enjoys the privilege of having a well known (and elected) platform. Mrs. Grimes's slipperyness in this debate tango is neither helpful for her campaign nor inspiring for her supporters.

That's why the invitation extended to both candidates by three Kentucky evangelical leaders is a good opportunity for the Democrat. It would thaw the debate freeze in exhilarating fashion. Here are three simple reasons that the Grimes campaign should accept the invitation:

1) It would separate Grimes from establishment Democrat leadership, namely, President Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. To date Senator McConnell's most devastating criticism of Grimes has been one she has largely been unable to answer: The charge that she is a cog in the Obama administration's machine. Facing questions from socially conscious evangelical groups and their leaders would grant her a degree of credibility and transparency that has not been characteristic of the administration or its allies.

2) It would give Grimes the best platform possible from which to clarify her views. Many Kentucky conservatives allege that Grimes is to the far left of Commonwealth voters on the issue of abortion. It's unlikely that such a candidate would be able to carry Kentucky unless she clarified or nuanced her position. There is no better place to do just that than in conversation with three of Kentucky's most respected evangelicals.

3) It would demonstrate a respect and interest in evangelical voters that the national Democratic party does not seem to have. Many religious voters–some of whom voted for the President–have been appalled at the administration's lethargy and even animosity on religious liberty. Cases like Hobby Lobby and the recent non-discrimination executive order have raised serious questions about whether Democrats are concerned at all for the civic rights of traditionalists. This would be a good opportunity for Grimes to distance herself from that agenda and engage Kentucky's large evangelical base.

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Director, Commonwealth Policy Center