Why Democrats Are Accusing Mitch McConnell of Sexism

The latest Kentucky Senate controversy shows how Democrats think they can pull off an upset.

Stone wall: McConnell & Co. frowns on Obama delays.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Alex Roarty
Nov. 21, 2013, 6:01 a.m.

It’s the tweet that launched three days of in­ter­party war­fare.

The Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee’s sug­ges­tion Tues­day that Ken­tucky Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate can­did­ate Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes was an “Obama Girl” has pro­voked a flurry of apo­lo­gies, out­rage, and by Thursday, an er­ro­neous re­port that the staffer re­spons­ible had been fired.

The con­tro­versy looks like the kind of story that at­tracts in­terest from polit­ics-ob­sessed Wash­ing­ton in­siders but passes with hardly a no­tice in Ken­tucky. But strategists with Grimes’ and Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s cam­paigns sug­gest the epis­ode un­der­scores three max­ims of what it will take to win the mar­quee Sen­ate race.

Lun­der­gan Grimes needs to win over wo­men, by a large mar­gin. A Grimes vic­tory in deeply a red state de­pends in part on ex­ploit­ing a gender gap against the Sen­ate minor­ity lead­er, much as Pres­id­ent Obama did last year against Mitt Rom­ney. This isn’t the first time con­tro­versy has erup­ted after a Wash­ing­ton Re­pub­lic­an at­tacked Ken­tucky’s sec­ret­ary of state: An NR­SC spokes­man sparked out­rage in Septem­ber when he called Grimes an “empty dress.”

Gaffes rarely have stay­ing power, but Demo­crats think in this case they’re a gate­way to a much more sub­stant­ive is­sue. Mc­Con­nell has voted against the Vi­ol­ence Against Wo­men Act, in­clud­ing its reau­thor­iz­a­tion earli­er this year. He has said that al­though he sup­ports the le­gis­la­tion in prin­ciple, he ob­jec­ted to the ver­sion pushed by Demo­crats this year. Re­gard­less, it’s something Demo­crats will use against him next year.

“Neither cam­paign can af­ford many self-in­flic­ted wounds, but any un­forced er­ror by Team Mc­Con­nell that shines a light on is­sues im­port­ant to wo­men could prove deadly,” said one Demo­crat­ic strategist. “They know this. That’s why they trot out [his] wife all the time and why they handled this in­cid­ent so dif­fer­ently than the ‘empty dress,’ which hurt them much more than people real­ize.”

Mc­Con­nell’s camp sound­ing tone-deaf. Oth­er strategists sug­gest the GOP’s cri­ti­cism re­flects a tone deaf­ness to the type of op­pon­ent he now faces. Grimes isn’t like Mc­Con­nell’s pre­vi­ous foes: She’s 34, a young up-and-com­ing politi­cian, and a wo­man. His cam­paign’s famed bare-knuckles ap­proach, so suc­cess­ful in past races, can rub voters the wrong way now.

That isn’t lost on the Grimes cam­paign, which de­ployed the can­did­ate’s grand­moth­er, Elsie Case, to re­spond on Wed­nes­day. (It’s not the first time the cam­paign has used her, either.) “Sen­at­or Mc­Con­nell, you owe the wo­men of Ken­tucky an apo­logy,” she said. “There are a mil­lion of us moth­ers and grand­moth­ers in Ken­tucky who think Team Mitch ought to wash their mouths out with soap.”

Demo­crats’ fo­cus on style over sub­stance. Does Grimes’s out­rage go too far? The Mc­Con­nell cam­paign struck back Wed­nes­day, hold­ing a con­fer­ence call to blast the Demo­crat for dis­tract­ing the cam­paign from is­sues that mat­ter.

“When I ran for the state Le­gis­lature and Con­gress, I could not wait to share with voters my vis­ion and my po­s­i­tion on the com­pel­ling is­sues of the day,” said former GOP Rep. Anne Northup. “That is why I ran. I am com­pletely con­fused about why Al­is­on Grimes is run­ning and doesn’t want to dis­cuss the com­pel­ling is­sues of this day: health care and coal as part of the en­ergy equa­tion.”

A Re­pub­lic­an strategist said Grimes or her cam­paign has yet to pub­licly en­gage on any oth­er is­sue in the cam­paign, in­clud­ing the two high­lighted by Northup, that voters ac­tu­ally care about. She risks look­ing out-of-touch.

“The Grimes cam­paign in part is one-trick pony at this stage,” said the strategist. “If you look at the way the Obama cam­paign ex­ecuted their ‘War on Wo­men’ strategy in vari­ous states, it was com­pli­men­ted by vari­ous policy mat­ters. It cer­tainly was not fea­tured the only time their can­did­ate came in­to pub­lic to dis­cuss is­sues.”

The aim there seems ap­par­ent: The more Mc­Con­nell’s cam­paign can goad Grimes in­to ap­pear­ing in pub­lic, the more she’ll have to an­swer ques­tions about Obama­care and oth­er un­pop­u­lar is­sues tied to the pres­id­ent and the na­tion­al Demo­crat­ic Party.

What We're Following See More »
DOCUMENTS OBTAINED BY U.S. INTEL
Putin-Linked Think Tank Developed Plan to Influence U.S. Election
3 days ago
THE LATEST

A Russian government think tank run by Putin loyalists "developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system." Two confidential documents from the Putin-backed Institute for Strategic Studies, obtained by U.S. intelligence, provide "the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election."

Source:
HELPED WIN FISA APPROVAL
FBI Relied on Dossier Allegations to Monitor Page
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"The FBI last year used a dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump's campaign as part of the justification" to monitor Carter Page, who was then a defense adviser to the Trump campaign. "The dossier has also been cited by FBI Director James Comey in some of his briefings to members of Congress in recent weeks."

Source:
AIR FORCE SCRAMBLES JETS IN RESPONSE
Russian Bombers Fly Near Alaska
5 days ago
WHY WE CARE
A MESSAGE TO RUSSIA?
Pentagon Deploying F-35s to Europe
1 weeks ago
THE LATEST

"The Air Force is set to deploy its high-tech, fifth-generation F-35A fighter jets to Europe this weekend as part of an effort to assure U.S. allies there who are worried about Russian aggression." The new, state-of-the-art fighters will train with European air units. "The Pentagon noted that the deployment had been long planned, meaning it was not a reaction to recent increasing tensions between the United States and Russia," although a statement noted the move is part of the "European Reassurance Initiative," which began three years ago when Russia annexed Crimea.

Source:
NOT ON SCHEDULE
Tillerson Meets Putin
1 weeks ago
BREAKING
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login