CBSN

Did Alison Lundergan Grimes vote for Obama?

Kentucky's Democratic U.S. Senate nominee, and Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes speaks at the Fancy Farm picnic August 2, 2014 in Fancy Farm, Kentucky.

Win McNamee, Getty Images

Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky, has emphasized her differences with President Obama on the campaign trail, pitching herself as an independent voice for a state in which the president is deeply unpopular.

But when Grimes was asked on Thursday during an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal editorial board whether she voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 and 2012, she repeatedly declined to answer the question.

"This election isn't about the president, it's about making sure we put Kentuckians back to work," she said.

Pressed on the issue, Grimes emphasized her ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, who are considerably more popular than the president in the Bluegrass State.

"I was actually in '08 a delegate for Hillary Clinton, and I think Kentuckians know I'm a Clinton Democrat through and through," she said. "I respect the sanctity of the ballot box, and I know that the members of this editorial board do as well."

"So you're not going to answer," a member of the board persisted.

"Again, I don't think that the president is on the ballot, as much as Mitch McConnell might want him to be," Grimes replied. "It's my name, and it's gonna be me who's holding him accountable for the failed decisions and votes that he has made against the people of Kentucky."

Grimes, Kentucky's secretary of state, is locked in a tight race with McConnell, the powerful Senate minority leader. Most polls have reflected a slight lead for the Republican - a CBS News/New York Times analysis this month, for example, found McConnell ahead 47 to 41 percent - but other public polls have shown a closer race.

The contest is one of a handful that could determine which party controls the Senate in the next Congress. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to seize the majority.

Grimes has taken particular care to distance herself from the president on energy policy, criticizing the administration's environmental regulations for harming the coal industry - a key part of Kentucky's economy.

She told the Courier Journal that the government should take a "balanced approach" to the issue, increasing the use of renewable fuels without sweeping the rug out from under the fossil fuel industry. But she also criticized McConnell for dodging questions about the human impact on climate change by saying he's "not a scientist."

"You don't have to be a scientist to have an opinion," Grimes said.

Grimes also staked out disagreements with the president on gun control and the use of executive orders, according to the Courier-Journal.

She did not disavow the president's health care law, though, saying the Affordable Care Act is "not perfect, by any means, but no law ever is." She lauded Steve Beshear, Kentucky's Democratic governor, for his efforts to build a functional insurance marketplace for the state.