McConnell Seeks to Counter Attacks on Women’s Issues

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, flanked by female supporters from across his home state of Kentucky, predicted that Democrats would rely on gender politics in their bid to unseat him in next year’s election.

“What you’re going to see by my opponent obviously is the Barack Obama playbook, to try to divide people with gender-based attacks,” McConnell, 71, said at a Louisville rally yesterday to introduce “Women for Team Mitch.”

“We’ve seen that all too often,” he said.

The Senate’s top Republican, a prime target for Democrats in 2014, faces what will almost certainly be a well-funded general-election opponent -- Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, 34 -- if he succeeds in fending off a challenge in his party’s primary from Matt Bevin, 46, a Tea Party-backed Louisville investor.

McConnell, a five-term senator and the chamber’s minority leader since 2007, is trying to minimize the impact of Democratic accusations that he and other Republican lawmakers promote policies that are anti-women. The Democratic effort began last year following a spate of high-profile comments from Republican candidates that were criticized as sexist and insensitive to women.

Akin Comment

The most notable example was the claim by Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin in August 2012 that “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy. McConnell was among the Republicans who called for Akin to leave the race after his comments. Akin refused and Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill, who before his comment had been trailing polls, defeated him to win a second term.

Obama, in winning a second presidential term in the November election, benefited from getting 55 percent of the women’s voted compared with 44 percent for Republican Mitt Romney, according to exit poll.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in an Aug. 29 e-mailed statement, accused McConnell of “shameful hypocrisy towards Kentucky women” for starting his “Women for Team Mitch” effort after his campaign earlier this week touted an endorsement from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who backed Akin last year.

A spokeswoman for Grimes, Charly Norton, said an e-mail yesterday that McConnell’s Louisville gathering “continued to mislead Kentuckians on his disastrous record on issues important to women and their families.”

Cabinet Service

McConnell was joined at his event by his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, whom he cited -- along with his late mother -- as among the women who have had a major influence on his life.

“From my earliest days, up until my present, I’ve been inspired by, mentored by, collaborated with an extraordinary collection of accomplished women,” McConnell said.

Chao, 60, served in her Labor post throughout President George W. Bush’s two terms -- the only one of his Cabinet members to do so.

McConnell said his mother was unflagging in helping him overcome his childhood bout with polio, which prevented him from walking for two years.

Nathan Gonzales, political editor for the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington, said McConnell was wise to enlist his wife as a campaign surrogate because “Democrats are trying to make a case nationwide that Republicans are against women.”

“It also shows that he knows he has to run two races at the same time,” Gonzales said. “He can’t afford to focus on Bevin for months and then just flip a switch.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kathleen Hunter in Louisville, Kentucky at khunter9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net

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