09/12/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

McConnell Challenger: McCain's Tactics Diminish The Presidency

Bruce Lunsford, one of the Democratic Party's would-be new Senators, derided John McCain last week for running ads that "diminished the role of the presidency and his campaign," and pursuing a foreign policy dangerous to American security.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Lunsford, who is challenging Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, levied some harsh criticisms at both his opponent and the presumptive Republican nominee. On McCain, Lunsford said that the most recent spat of negative advertisements, designed to portray Barack Obama as a vacuous celebrity, had effectively destroyed McCain's image as a "straight talker."

On the Iraq War, he spoke in equally blunt terms.

"I don't think that as a country we have added to our appeal internationally by the Iraq war. That's pretty clear. And I would say that a continuation of those policies is what has been somewhat, and will continue to be, the centerpiece of Al Qaeda keeping things going against America. Every statistic tells us that. So yes, common sense will tell you that [McCain's foreign policy is a danger]. Though common sense seems to be void in a lot of these Republicans."

Trailing McConnell by anywhere from four to twelve points in the polls, Lunsford has been criticized by progressives for having supported Republicans (including McConnell) in past elections. Asked if his opinion of McConnell had hardened over time, Lunsford argued that it was the Minority Leader not he who had moved away from his centrist roots and become a product of the "dysfunctional" establishment. The current energy debate, he offered, was an illustrative example.

"Mitch McConnell has been there 24 years and George Bush has been there for eight and, effectively what they are saying is that it wasn't important to deal with energy during the first 7.5 years but all of a sudden now it is important because it is election time," said Lunsford. "I think that Mitch McConnell is the quintessential example of a politician who will do anything or say anything to get elected and I don't think it is any more complicated than that."

The interview touched on a variety of topics from foreign policy to the presidential campaign to the Bush administration and congressional affairs. Often with his answers, Lunsford, a Louisville businessman who has run twice for the governor's chair, positioned himself as a sensible alternative to the "insensitive arrogance of Washington politicians."

For example, when asked about Sen. Joseph Lieberman whose antics in advocacy for John McCain have some in the Democrat party sniping for his ouster from the caucus, Lunsford said the Connecticut Senator was cut from the same political cloth as McConnell.

"The reason he is not a Democrat right now is not because he is philosophically like [New York City Mayor] Michael Bloomberg, to become an independent," he said. "He chose to become an independent because he got beat in the Democratic primary. In most states you wouldn't have the ability to do that. He is not there by choice like someone like Bloomberg. He is there because it is the only way to get elected, which is somewhat consistent with the guy I am running against who will say or do anything to get elected. And so even though you might admire a lot of the things Joe Lieberman may stand for, the process that got him there is nothing noble."

Half a year ago, a possible Lunsford victory in Kentucky seemed beyond the scope of even the wildest Democratic fantasy. But the Republican brand is in shambles, and with McConnell the nominal figurehead of a loathed minority in Congress, Lunsford's chances ripened. Should he make it to the Senate, it would touch off a massive Democratic wave in the congressional elections. And already, the Kentuckian was discussing various legislative and political items he wanted to pursue.

Lunsford said there was an imperative to investigate the Bush administration for the possible violation of civil liberties regarding its warrantless wiretapping program and Justice Department hirings and firings.

"Anything that invades the freedom of Americans whether it be privacy or anything else it should be handled with such kid gloves. If there is any abuse of the system it clearly should be investigated. You should have to be accountable for your actions," he said. "They have also had control, as we know, of the Justice Department and there have been plenty of stories that showed they haven't handled that right. So if you can't rely on leadership to be honest in what they do and how they do, that is at the very core of the system. But that is going to change. They are not going to be the judge and jury of everything they do and what they have done beginning in January 2009."

He discussed encouraging national service among the nation's youth (his daughter served in thePpeace Corps) and pursuing an Iraq policy that would revolve around the withdrawal timeline being discussed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Barack Obama.

"For the first time there has actually been a dialogue where both our leadership and Iraq agrees that there is a timetable and here is what we want to do and we all ought to move toward it," he said. "And it was interesting that with all the opportunities that George Bush has had to enter a dialogue and the opportunities that Sen. McCain has had to enter a dialogue it is interesting that it only occurred when Barack Obama went over there. Maybe it indicated that someone with some communicative skills who loves to reach compromises might be an important part of the next leadership of this country?"

As for that certain someone, Lunsford conceded that his home state of Kentucky was note fertile ground in the general election. But he attributed Obama's landslide loss in the primary to the popularity of Hillary Clinton and not any socioeconomic or racial dynamics.

Does he think that choosing Clinton as a vice president would bolster Obama's chances in Kentucky? "It is very obvious that she did well here."

Would he welcome the opportunity to campaign alongside the presumptive Democratic nominee:? "Yes," Lunsford responded. When asked if he thought having Obama at the top of the ticket was a boon or a burden for his own election, he said, "Anybody of the caliber of Barack Obama... does nothing but add gravitas to our campaign. And keep in mind. The Republicans don't have any policy to run on that has worked well for the average working man and woman for the country. There are some people who think that the government could have taken a seven-and-a-half year vacation and they would be better off today."