After 30 years in Senate, McConnell tries to run as 'candidate of change'By Dana Bash, CNN Chief Congressional CorrespondentUpdated 7:03 PM ET, Wed September 3, 2014Just WatchedFierce fight for Kentucky heats upreplayMore Videos ...Fierce fight for Kentucky heats up 03:32Story highlightsMcConnell could become majority leader if he wins his Senate electionOpponent Grimes has a well-financed campaign aided by Democratic starsThe candidates are a study in different stylesWhen you first hear his pitch, it defies logic: Mitch McConnell, a 30-year veteran of the Senate, campaigning for re-election as an agent of change."If you want change, if you're unhappy with the direction of this country, the candidate of change is the guy you're looking at," McConnell told an audience at a Chamber of Commerce lunch here.72-year-old McConnell -- the top Senate Republican -- is running against a 35-year-old Democrat who has never had an elected job in D.C.But he's the change candidate?Well, if you're a voter with an unfavorable view of President Barack Obama -- and according to a new CNN/Opinion Research International Poll, that's about two-thirds of Kentucky voters -- McConnell's argument has appeal once he explains it. He says the only real option for altering the balance of power in Washington is a GOP Senate takeover on Election Day -- and putting him in charge.Just WatchedMcConnell and government shutdownsreplayMore Videos ...McConnell and government shutdowns 01:52PLAY VIDEOJust WatchedMcConnell: 'Nothing I haven't said publicly'replayMore Videos ...McConnell: 'Nothing I haven't said publicly' 01:08PLAY VIDEOJust WatchedMcConnell on secret audio tape replayMore Videos ...McConnell on secret audio tape 07:39PLAY VIDEO"The only thing they can do in 2014 to begin to change the direction of the country is to change the makeup of the Senate," McConnell told CNN."In this country, the way you change things is at the ballot box. And so there's only one thing that can be done this year to begin to lead America in a different direction and it begins right here in Kentucky," he tells voters on the stump.McConnell wants to be Senate Majority Leader so badly he can taste it, especially after two straight election cycles of seeing the role within his reach, but snatched away largely because of bruising intra-GOP fights and Republican candidate missteps.Kentucky U.S. Senate race is one the key ones this yearI reminded McConnell of the old joke about senators, that most of them look in the mirror and see the next president."I never had that problem. I never had that affliction," McConnell chuckled."You have always wanted to be the majority leader of the Senate, is that fair to say?" I asked."I would like to have the chance to be the majority leader of the Senate, yes," he replied.Toughest challenge in yearsBut to lead the Senate, he has to win re-election first, and McConnell is facing his toughest challenge in years in Alison Lundergan Grimes.Just WatchedIP 'Inside Politics Forecast'replayMore Videos ...IP 'Inside Politics Forecast' 03:26PLAY VIDEOJust WatchedCan "Clinton Dem" Grimes win Kentucky? replayMore Videos ...Can "Clinton Dem" Grimes win Kentucky? 02:32PLAY VIDEOJust WatchedElection season kicks into high gearreplayMore Videos ...Election season kicks into high gear 02:15PLAY VIDEOGrimes would be Kentucky's first female senator. Currently Kentucky's secretary of state, she has a well-financed campaign, thanks to the national implications and importance of her race. She's gotten high-profile help from former President Bill Clinton, a family friend.In many ways she is running a textbook campaign for a challenger trying to unseat an entrenched incumbent, especially a Democrat versus Republican. She paints McConnell as out of touch with the folks back home, and the personification of Washington dysfunction."I don't know whether to call Sen. McConnell Sen. No-Show, Sen. Gridlock or Sen. Shutdown," Grimes says to a crowd gathered for a political picnic in Owensboro."What I do know is that he's not working for Kentucky. Kentucky is all ready for someone whose vocabulary goes beyond the word 'no.' When it comes to increasing the minimum wage and giving hardworking Kentuckians a fighting chance, Mitch McConnell says no. Kentucky is ready for a senator who says it's not just a minimum wage, it's a living wage. When it comes to the women of this state being treated equally, Mitch McConnell says no," Grimes says.McConnell: 'Remember me? I am the guy that gets us out of shutdowns'That appears to be resonating with some voters here, even one who has supported McConnell over the years."We're just tired of McConnell. His only objective is to -- anything Obama's done, he's against it," Owensboro voter Margaret Willett said.But others in the crowd disagreed, especially voters like Keith Herm who dislike the President."I believe the seniority he will hold in the Senate will be monumental," Herm said about McConnell. "There are some issues with Obama I would like to see changed, and hopefully he can do that."Grimes' biggest challenge is unshackling herself from Obama, who won only four of Kentucky's 120 counties in 2012. It's not easy, when McConnell's working so hard to link Grimes to the President."Mitch McConnell, well, he wants to make this race about anyone but me, trying to tie me to every national figure that's out there that disagrees with Kentucky's interests. Barack Obama isn't on the ballot; I am," Grimes told voters.Democrats have been banking on the fact that the President may be unpopular here, but so is McConnell -- he is well known, and not well liked.The trouble for Grimes is that as she becomes better known, and put through the grind of this intense campaign, her favorable ratings are dipping, too.A strikingly stark contrast in stylesLike any candidate, McConnell and Grimes each have pluses and minuses, but these two have a strikingly stark contrast in style.McConnell is the ultimate political tactician and old school, bring-home-the-bacon senator.When it was his turn to speak at the Owensboro picnic, McConnell made a point of reminding residents here he secured $50 million to renovate the riverfront, which transformed the town. It's the kind of earmark the tea party hates. He never would have spoken about it during his GOP primary fight, but it is front and center in the general election campaign against a Democrat."I'm proud I did it for you. It's changed this community and we'll do it again," said McConnell, not mentioning that the kind of earmarks that rebuilt the riverfront are now banned in the Senate.But McConnell's aides are the first to admit he is not a natural campaigner. He doesn't connect in the grip and grin settings many politicians love. It's not his thing.Grimes, on the other hand, appears energized by pressing the flesh with voters. She moved around the Owensboro picnic introducing herself and talking to voters with ease. And on the stump she can project and deliver lines powerfully.But in interviews, she often appears stilted and scripted.Case in point: When I asked Grimes point blank for some "Kentucky candor" about how much of a drag the President is on her campaign, she replied with a generic talking point."I think that Kentuckians are seeing this race for what it is, a chance to actually move Kentucky forward in the right direction," Grimes said.Bound to get very uglyThis is expected to be the most expensive Senate race in history, north of $100 million.And the mud is already flying.McConnell's campaign manager Jesse Benton abruptly resigned late last week because of a bribery scandal surrounding Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign. Grimes' campaign is already pushing a Web ad highlighting Benton's departure.But that may be because McConnell's campaign released an ad of its own whacking Grimes, accusing her of getting a sweetheart deal for her campaign bus -- brokered by her father, a prominent businessman and former state party chair."They're baseless, unfounded, bullying accusations from Mitch McConnell," Grimes said of the allegations.And then there's a secret audio recording that surfaced of McConnell speaking at a Koch brothers donor meeting, vowing not to allow votes on Democratic initiatives.It was released right before our interview, and Grimes was eager to jump on it as McConnell's "47% Mitt Romney moment.""I think it shows the extent and the lengths he will go to pander to his party millionaires and billionaires at the expense of hurting Kentuckians," Grimes said of the McConnell audio.As for McConnell, he brushed it off, because he has made it no secret he intends to block the President's agenda."I didn't say anything in the private meeting I haven't said publicly." McConnell told me.McConnell, the Democrats and the limits of a secret tapeThat may be, but a muffled recording of a secret meeting with fat cat GOP donors is less than ideal for McConnell.These are end-of-summer stumbles for both candidates, in the marquee race of the year, bound to get very ugly.2014 Midterm ElectionsFull election resultsSee the full results for who won the Senate, House and governor midterm elections. Get ready: 2016 starts nowAttention Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and everyone else "seriously considering" a run for president.Bad boys survive to win re-electionYou know that Republican doctor who got one of his patients pregnant and then demanded that she get an abortion? Yeah, he won.Many historic firsts among midtermsThe 2014 midterm elections brought a historic victory for Republicans, handing the GOP its largest congressional majority since World War II. New superstars, new villainsIt was a tough night for Democrats -- who will be looking for a leader for 2016 -- and a big night for the GOP -- who may have a few more names to consider. Republicans seize SenateA Republican tide ripped the Senate away from Democrats, giving the GOP full control of Congress and the power to pin down President Obama.GOP keeps grip on HouseThe House of Representatives remained solidly in Republican hands after Tuesday's midterm election.Mitch McConnell re-elected Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell has won re-election in Kentucky, staving off Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, according to a CNN projection. Cruz refuses to endorse McConnellSen. Ted Cruz lauded the Republican Senate takeover, but shied away from endorsing Sen. Mitch McConnell to lead the new majority.A huge night for Republicans CNN asked commentators for views on the results of the midterm elections, in which the GOP took back the Senate and retained control of the House. Tim Scott makes history in S.C.South Carolina's Tim Scott became the first African-American senator to win election in the South since Reconstruction. Oregon, D.C. legalize marijuanaVoters in Oregon and D.C. have voted to approve sweeping pro-marijuana legalization while voters in Florida gave the thumbs down.Good night for GOP governorsRepublicans continued their dominance of governor's mansions when a number of GOP leaders fought off stiff challenges from Democrats.Perdue defeats Nunn, avoids runoffRepublican David Perdue has won the race for Georgia's U.S. Senate seat occupied by retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss.Thom Tillis wins NC Senate raceFirst-term Democratic incumbent North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan lost in a tight contest against GOP challenger Thom Tillis.Tom Cotton win scores GOP pickupRepublican Rep. Tom Cotton has defeated Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, according to a CNN projection.Shaheen holds on to NH Senate seatRepublican Scott Brown lost his second Senate race in two election cycles, failing to unseat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire. Charlie Crist concedes Florida raceFormer Gov. Charlie Crist conceded Florida's close gubernatorial race against GOP Gov. Rick Scott.Exit polls: Majority of voters dissatisfied or angry with D.C.A majority of Americans are dissatisfied with President Obama's administration and GOP leaders, according to exit polls released and analyzed by CNN.Photos: The places America votesTake a look around the country in our gallery as America votes.2014 Midterms: The Big DonorsWho's giving to outside groups? It's not just candidates and parties spending the cash.More from politicsObama chief guest at India's Republic Day paradeIsraeli Amb. defends Netanyahu's speech to CongressIsraeli ambassador: Netanyahu must speak out on Iran while 'there is still time'