Joined by dozens of women from across Kentucky, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign launched “Women for Team Mitch” to reach female voters and blunt Democratic criticisms.
And McConnell says that regardless of gender, Kentuckians should think about his potential to shape the agenda in Washington if he becomes majority leader next fall.
Those in attendance shared their personal and at times emotional stories about how the senator helped them with business, family and other problems.
Democrats were quick to point out that on the issues McConnell voted against re-authorizing the Violence Against Women Act and opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
McConnell says those type of attacks show national Democrats and would-be challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes want to divide Kentuckians along gender lines.
“What you’re going to see by my opponent obviously is the Barack Obama playbook to try to divide people with gender-based attacks. We’ve seen that all too often and some of it has started already. I expect you’ll see more of it over the coming campaign,” he says.
The gender gap is becoming a consistent problem for the GOP in state and federal elections, however. Last year national polls showed women support Democrats over Republicans, 44 to 35 percent.
Grimes’s campaign argues the contrast between the two on the issues couldn’t be sharper, and that McConnell has a poor record in terms of attracting women voters to his campaign.
“Senator McConnell’s photo op today comes at no surprise given his disastrous record on issues impacting women and their families,” says Grimes campaign spokeswoman Charly Norton. “Time and again, Mitch McConnell has cowardly taken the low road and refused to stand strong for the women of the commonwealth.”
McConnell’s campaign aides, however, say they aren’t giving up any ground on women’s issues in next year’s campaign. A big part of that pushback is the senator’s wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who says McConnell has a record to empower women that has been ignored over the years.
“Mitch’s record in office is just as strong as his record in (his) personal life. He fought for and passed the Family Friendly Workplace Act and the Workplace Flexibility Act to make sure working mothers are treated fairly. And he was a champion of legislation that was enacted to allow female air force pilots to fly combat missions,” says Chao.
“I have spent my life breaking through glass ceilings and with Mitch by my side supporting me one-thousand percent.”
Republican women in attendance also didn’t spare Grimes, and many took jabs at the first-term secretary of state over what they called a lukewarm response to a sexual harassment scandal against a Democratic lawmaker in state government.
When asked this week about the accusations levied at state Rep. John Arnold by two female staffers, a Grimes campaign spokesperson told WFPL harassment of women in the workplace should not be tolerated, but dodged whether Arnold should resign.
“Kentucky women need fairness, they need respect and they need security in the workplace,” says Allison Ball, a McConnell supporter from eastern Kentucky. “And that’s why I have been deeply disturbed by the response of Grimes. She’s always telling us how she’s the only female constitutional officer in Kentucky and she how cares about women. But when she was asked about this situation she gave a cold, wishy-washy lawyer answer about due process, and that really bothered me.”
McConnell bypassed talking about women’s issues directly in favor of conveying how he’s been inspired by women over his life such as his late mother, who cared for him as a young child with polio.
But McConnell made it clear that regardless of gender the 2014 contest is about his leadership’s ability to shape the national agenda, and stopping Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada in the process.
“Who do you want to be the leader of the U.S. Senate? A man who supports the Barack Obama agenda 100 percent—and by the way believes coal makes you sick—or a Kentuckian? That’s the choice in the coming months,” says McConnell. “And whether you’re a man or whether you’re a woman, these are the issues that are going to determine the future of our country.”