LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- What was supposed to be a forum on agriculture turned into a political slugfest as the candidates in a key Senate race traded blows on everything from attendance in committee meetings to allegations of improper campaign finance.
Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, questioned Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's effectiveness. She highlighted McConnell's prolonged absence from Agriculture Committee meetings and blamed him for a lapse in the federal farm bill that provided crop insurance for farmers.
During the candidates' first joint public appearance, McConnell said his role as the Republican Senate leader caused him to miss some meetings and said the farm bill he helped negotiate saved crop insurance for Kentucky's tobacco farmers. He then ridiculed Grimes for getting a good deal by renting a campaign bus from her father's company.
Grimes called the bus criticism a desperate attack.
Comments by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, during their forum before leaders of the Kentucky Farm Bureau on Wednesday:
McConnell: "It ought to be pulled up root and branch and we ought to start over." -- a reference to the Affordable Care Act.
"On the consumer side, it's entirely predictable -- premiums are going up, deductibles are going up, copayments are going up, jobs are being lost."
Grimes: "We need to make sure that we have a senator who realizes the law isn't perfect, but we have to work to fix it. ... We have to work to streamline the Affordable Care Act to make sure there aren't overburdensome regulations on our businesses."
Grimes: "Had Mitch McConnell not stood in the way of comprehensive immigration reform ... we might not see the crisis that we see at the borders today."
McConnell: "I support legal immigration. We need to make some changes in it. It needs to be more merit based, we need to tilt it toward people who can immediately be productive in our country and make a difference."
McConnell: "The tobacco buyout was a conspicuous accomplishment. We were going to lose that asset, which the government had created, and get nothing for it. And honestly, it's pretty hard to sell anything on tobacco ... in Washington. I did it almost singlehandedly."
Grimes: "You'll hear him talk about work over a decade ago that he did to bring funds here to the commonwealth. But what he won't tell you is that the era of earmarks is over. Kentucky needs a senator that can reach out in a bipartisan manner and deliver for our farmers and farm families."
Grimes: "Washington isn't working for us. And after 30 years, regardless of who is in the White House ... the common denominator for the problems we are facing, it's Mitch McConnell. He's the reason the mess exists. He's the reason the president is wrongly using executive orders."
McConnell: "The only deals that have been made on a bipartisan basis during the Obama years, I brokered every one of them."
Grimes: "I will work with anyone that puts the best interests of Kentucky first and at heart. But you seek to attack our good agriculture jobs, our coal jobs, and you'll find no stronger opponent."
McConnell: "I think it's pretty clear that my opponent would be a vote for the status quo. Her first vote in the Senate would be to re-elect Harry Reid (as) majority leader ... there won't be any votes to push back against the war on coal."
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