Call it a tale of two Tweets.
The campaign to re-elect Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell is taking umbrage with Democratic challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes for putting too much focus on a Tweet by a national GOP group.
Supporters of Kentucky’s senior senator slammed Grimes for trying to distract voters and playing the “sexist card,” but Team Mitch had no trouble putting Twitter at the forefront when a liberal super PAC attacked the race of McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao online.
At issue is the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which posted a message linking to a Kentucky lawyer who had photo of Grimes’s face on the body of the “Obama girl” model.
The NRSC—which had previously referred to Grimes as an “empty dress”—apologized hours later and blamed the message on a low level staffer after Grimes called out the “sexualized” message, saying the group stood for: “Notoriously Repeating Sexist Comments.”
On a Wednesday morning conference call, McConnell’s campaign trotted out three prominent women supporters who scolded Democrats and the media for giving the NRSC message attention over the real story of Grimes’s appearing with First Lady Michelle Obama at a fundraiser in New York City.
“I really find it ridiculous that this silly Tweet by some low-level staffer is something that we’re having a press conference on and we’re having to deal with, and that Alison Grimes is trying to make a big deal out of,” said former Kentucky Republican Party Chairwoman Ellen Williams.
“We’re discussing a Tweet that Alison is hiding behind because she doesn’t want to talk about the issues.”
It makes sense for the McConnell camp to want to keep the focus on the fundraiser where Michelle Obama discussed the need for her husband’s agenda to be reinforced by Democratic candidates like Grimes. It’s been an effort by Republicans to connect Grimes to the president, who is one of the few figure less popular than McConnell in Kentucky.
In March, however, when McConnell’s first TV ad for re-election featured Chao taking jabs at the liberal group for using her ethnicity in a series of Twitter messages.
“Now, far left special interests are also attacking my ethnicity, even attacking Mitch’s patriotism because he’s married to me,” Chao said in the ad. “That’s how low some people will stoop.”
The McConnell camp denounced the NRSC message, but when asked if there was a difference between them making an issue out of Tweets attacking Chao’s race and Grimes doing the same with a message focusing on her gender, McConnell campaign Jesse Benton bypassed the question.
Instead, he noted that the senator speaks to the press far more than his Democratic challenger.
“Alison Grimes has refused to even address cursory issues about some of the most important topics facing the commonwealth,” he said.
The gender gap in the Senate race is thought to be a pronounced advantage for Grimes and one Democrats are quick to remind voters about.
The NRSC fumble has given Grimes an opportunity to not only pivot away from the association with Michelle Obama, but remind voters about the history surrounding her race—Kentucky has never elected a female senator—and ding McConnell’s record.
“It’s time for Mitch McConnell to apologize to the women of Kentucky and tell them what he thinks about this growing sexism from his organization,” says Grimes campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton. “The only thing worse than this latest sexualized attack is Mitch McConnell’s abysmal record on issues important to women. Unlike McConnell, Alison is running for U.S. Senate to fight for Kentucky women. When she’s elected, the commonwealth will have a senator who fully respects them and their ability to provide for their families.”
But the gender gap isn’t something McConnell is giving up on as evidenced by the conference call. Asked about their political director, Iris Wilbur, Retweeting the NRSC “Obama girl” message Benton dared critics to accuse her of prejudice.
“Our political director, who I would point out is a woman herself and a minority as well, I’d like to see people accuse her of sexism or some sort of bigotry,” he said. “She Tweeted it out from her own personal account that says thoughts and Tweets are her own. She’s a free citizen with a right to free speech and I think we still have that in this country.”