Republican U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign is urging a Kentucky state lawmaker to apologize for joking about Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes being called an “empty dress” last year.
The comments were made during the Fayette County GOP’s Ronald Reagan Dinner on Saturday where several candidates and elected officials, including McConnell, were in attendance.
It was last September when a GOP strategist referred to Grimes as an “empty dress” during an interview, which Democrats and the Grimes campaign pounced on as a “sexist smear.”
According to New York Times congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman, state Rep. Stan Lee of Lexington, who was the master of ceremonies, poked fun at the incident. Speaking to the GOP crowd, Lee said it would have went over better if Republicans had said Grimes looked “fat in that empty dress.”
After prodding from Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst, who pointed out McConnell “sat idle” during Lee’s remarks, a spokeswoman for the GOP leader’s re-election bid issued a statement.
“We’re all for a joke at dinner, but Rep. Lee’s attempt at humor was highly offensive and inappropriate,” said McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore. “We have always known Rep. Lee to be a man of good character and hope that he will do the right thing and apologize.”
Lee has not responded to our request for comment on this story.
The fight over women’s issues has been a major point of contention and controversy in the Senate race thus far.
Grimes has pounded McConnell for voting against the Violence Against Women Act and Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In response, McConnell has said his likely Democratic opponent is trying to divide voters along gender lines.
A poll conducted last year showed this is a weak spot for the senator’s re-election chances. Grimes holds a 12-point lead over McConnell among women, according to that Public Policy Polling survey.
Two months after the “empty dress” comment, the National Republican Senatorial Committee again caused McConnell more trouble. In November, the group posted a Twitter message linking to a picture of Grimes’s face imposed on the body of the “Obama girl” model.
The NRSC yanked that online message, but not without taking jabs from Grimes in the press.
“The NRSC should stand for Notoriously Repeating Sexist Comments,” Grimes said at the time. “The incredibly inappropriate comments from Senator McConnell’s team mark a developing pattern and demonstrate just how out of touch McConnell is with the women of Kentucky.”
But state Republicans charge that Grimes herself was slow to respond in the face of a sexual harassment scandal involving Kentucky Democrats. In that case, Grimes took a contribution from the lawmaker at the center of the controversy, who was accused of harassing and assaulting two female statehouse employees.
McConnell expressed outrage over the incident, calling it a “cover up” by state Democrats and contrasting how Grimes responded to how he handled a sexual harassment controversy in the early 1990s.