Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes each easily won their respective primary elections Tuesday night, setting up one of the most hotly anticipated races of 2014.
McConnell handily defeated his tea-party-backed challenger, businessman Matt Bevin, 62 percent to 33 percent, with 7 percent of precincts reporting when the Associated Press called the race minutes after the polls closed at 7 p.m. On the Democratic side, Grimes took 79 percent over a handful of largely unknown candidates.
Bevin was once considered a serious challenger to McConnell, but a series of political stumbles left him and his campaign flailing for most of the year. By April, most of the conservative groups who had once enthusiastically backed his campaign had pulled out of the race.
McConnell and Grimes have been running neck-and-neck in what’s expected to be one of the closest races this cycle. A Bluegrass poll released this week showed them effectively tied, with Grimes leading 43 percent to 42 percent.
Both sides have surmounted sizable war chests for the battle ahead, with McConnell sitting on about $10 million and Grimes at just under $5 million at the end of April. They each spent more than they raised in the month of April, but McConnell has largely been focused on Bevin until this point. He’s expected to unleash a flood of ads targeting Grimes in the coming weeks, and his outside-group supporters have already purchased $5.2 million in post-primary airtime.
Grimes raised more than $8 million, but she’s spent more than $3 million already with no real primary challenger. She also lacks the outside support that McConnell has. Her supporting super PAC We Are Kentucky raised just under $300,000, most of which it has spent without a single media buy.