Last Updated Oct 15, 2014 9:21 AM EDT
Hillary Clinton's busy midterm campaign schedule carried her to Kentucky on Wednesday, where she headlined a rally in support of Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat taking on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state, lauded Grimes as a "vigorous, intelligent, determined young woman," saying Kentucky voters have a "stark choice" to make.
"Do you want politics in Washington, in the Congress, to look the same for the next six years? Because more than any other race in the country, this election in Kentucky is a referendum on the future," she said. "It is a chance to say no to the guardians of gridlock and yes to government that actually delivers results for working people."
Clinton repeatedly blamed McConnell for much of the partisanship that has paralyzed Washington during the Obama years, citing the sequester spending cuts and last year's government shutdown.
"Do you really want to see more of that kind of leadership in Washington?" Clinton asked. "If you don't, if you want a different approach, then you know what you must do -- you must send Alison to Washington to get the place in order to deliver for the people of Kentucky."
Grimes repaid the kind words, praising Clinton's record in the Senate and at the State Department. She also noted her longtime ties to the Clintons. "It's friendship," she said. "A woman who has literally known me since I was 14 years old."
The race in Kentucky represents one of Democrats' few pickup opportunities on a 2014 map that is decidedly tilted against them. A roster of high-profile Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, have traveled to the Bluegrass State in recent months to boost Grimes' candidacy, and the candidate herself has proven to be quite the fundraiser: her campaign took in $4.9 million between July and September, surpassing McConnell's haul by $1.7 million.
Most polls have reflected a slight lead for the incumbent, but many analysts believe the race could still tip in either direction. A CBS News/New York Times analysis released earlier this month, for example, found McConnell ahead of Grimes, 47 to 41 percent, but other surveys have found a closer contest. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to seize the Senate majority.
Grimes' party affiliation has arguably been her biggest liability during the campaign. President Obama is deeply unpopular in the state, and McConnell has linked Grimes with the national Democrats at every available turn, saying she'd be little more than a rubber stamp for Mr. Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, if she makes it to the Senate.
Ahead of the event on Wednesday, McConnell's campaign tweeted that Clinton supports Grimes "because she knows Alison would vote for Obama's failed liberal agenda."
To parry that charge, Grimes has emphasized her differences with Mr. Obama and linked herself closely to the Clintons, who are considerably more popular in Kentucky than the president is. During an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal editorial board last Thursday, Grimes would not say whether she voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 or 2012, but she identified herself as a "Clinton Democrat, through and through."
When she was asked during a debate on Monday night to explain the difference between an "Obama Democrat" and a "Clinton Democrat," Grimes noted the strong economic growth during Mr. Clinton's presidency and said the distinction comes down to "growing the middle class."
On Wednesday, she expanded on her point. "Being a Clinton Democrat, well, it's the recognition that when President Clinton left office, the nation's unemployment was at the lowest rate it had ever been in 30 years. The largest economic expansion that the nation had ever seen, with over 22 million good paying jobs. People reaching out and working together across the aisle in a spirit of bipartisanship," Grimes said. "Secretary Clinton, she worked in that same manner, as first lady, and then in the United States Senate."
Ahead of her visit, Grimes' campaign welcomed Clinton to Kentucky, with campaign manager Jonathan Hurst saying her appearance would "propel the immense amount of excitement and energy that surrounds Alison's campaign and help translate this strong enthusiasm into votes come Election Day."
"Kentuckians across the state are traveling to Louisville in a show of overwhelming support, as Hillary endorses Alison's independent vision and plan to get Washington working for Kentucky," he said.
Grimes will have to hope for more "overwhelming support" from Kentuckians and star Democrats like Mrs. Clinton as Election Day approaches, however - the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee acknowledged Monday that it hasn't reserved any television airtime to boost Grimes' candidacy during the final three weeks of the campaign.