LOUISVILLE - Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes called on her opponent, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, to join her call for a cease-fire on political attack ads by outside groups that are intensifying one of the country's hardest-fought campaigns.
In a letter made public Thursday, Grimes appealed to McConnell to sign a joint pledge to oppose spending by such outside groups in the Kentucky campaign.
Grimes, the Democratic challenger to the five-term Republican McConnell, said the Senate race should be "uncluttered" by attacks funded by well-heeled outside groups.
"So I further call on you to sign a 'People's Pledge' to ask all outside groups to cease spending in the Commonwealth and allow the campaigns to deliver their messages to Kentuckians unvarnished," Grimes said in her letter to McConnell. "I would, of course, take similar action."
Kentucky's high-spending Senate race has already featured outside attacks that skewered both candidates - branding Grimes as a rubberstamp for President Barack Obama and ridiculing McConnell for living on a government salary for decades.
Grimes' proposal to halt outside influences came in a reply to McConnell's recent challenge that they meet for three Lincoln-Douglas style debates without an audience or notes.
McConnell's campaign did not directly respond Thursday to Grimes' proposal that the candidates pledge to curb outside attacks.
Instead, it criticized Grimes for taking two weeks to reply to McConnell's challenge and turning the debate bargaining into a "political game."
"We're happy to have further discussions with the Grimes campaign, but it's clear that this is devolving into a juvenile exchange of press releases rather than the serious presentation of the candidates' views that Kentuckians deserve," said McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore.
Grimes' campaign said it was willing to agree to penalties as part of the pledge if an outside group ran an ad aimed at helping a candidate.
"In order for this to work, this agreement has to have teeth and be signed by both sides," said Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst. "Our campaign stands ready to do so."
Such a pledge would not be unprecedented. In 2012, Republican Scott Brown and Democrat Elizabeth Warren signed such a pledge to curb political attack ads by outside groups in their Massachusetts Senate race. Each campaign agreed to donate half the cost of any third-party ad to charity if that ad either supported their candidacy or attacked their opponent by name.
Both McConnell and Grimes are expected to rake in loads of campaign cash to air their own ads in coming months. McConnell's campaign had $10.1 million on hand at the end of April, while Grimes' campaign had nearly $5 million. Grimes is Kentucky's secretary of state.
Several outside groups are lining up on both sides of the political spectrum to try to influence Kentucky's high-profile race, said University of Kentucky political scientist Stephen Voss. Those groups typically air the most negative ads of a campaign, he noted.
Without the aid of third-party groups, McConnell would have to carry the weight in going negative against Grimes.
"A lot of people are saying they think McConnell is going to have a hard time using negative attacks himself against Grimes," he said. "If that conventional wisdom holds, then it would tie his hands somewhat on going very negative on his own," Voss said.
As for debating, Grimes said in her letter that she wants a series of debates but differed with McConnell on the conditions.
While McConnell proposed debates without an audience, Grimes said audiences should be allowed.
McConnell agreed to have a Louisville TV station host the first debate in late June. Grimes countered that she has accepted an invitation to debate on Kentucky Educational Television. She also proposed debates in different regions statewide.