It was exactly what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had been hoping for.
Except instead of President Barack Obama discussing gun control and his health care law at a New York fundraiser for female Senate candidates, it was First Lady Michelle Obama.
Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes was among the female candidates who gathered Monday with the First Lady for a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee fundraiser, where Michelle Obama spoke of the need to elect more Democratic senators to further the president’s agenda.
The First Lady, talking about how narrowly “Obamacare” passed and the slim margin by which gun control legislation was defeated, said that “it is critical that we elect Michelle Nunn, Alison Grimes, Natalie Tennant.”
“It is critical that we get them to the Senate,” the First Lady said. “And it is just as critical that we elect — reelect Senators Mary Kay Hagan, Mary Landrieu, Jeanne Shaheen — it is critical, because we all know that it’s not enough to elect Barack Obama President if we don’t give him a Congress that will help him keep moving this country forward. We know that now. We’ve seen it. We’ve experienced it.”
Grimes, who has been reluctant to embrace any ties to the Obama White House as she squares off against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, has gone to great lengths to avoid using the president’s name, referring to him as “Washington politicians” in a recent interview with WKYT’s “Kentucky Newsmakers.”
The White House pool report — an account of events collected by a reporter and distributed to the rest of the White House press corps — and a subsequent transcript of the event showed that the First Lady had spelled out an agenda that Grimes has taken great pains to distance herself from since entering the race.
According to the White House pool report, Obama spoke of the narrow Democratic majority in the Senate and the president’s accomplishments it had ensured, citing the Lily Ledbetter Act and the president’s health care law, “that’s right, Obamacare.”
She also spoke of children, saying “they deserve commonsense gun safety laws to keep them safe in their classrooms and in their neighborhoods.”
“And let’s not forget about that commonsense gun legislation, that so many of us feel so strongly about,” the First Lady said. “Sadly, as you know, that bill failed. Anyone know by how many votes? It failed by just six votes in the Senate. Six. So make no mistake about it: the midterm elections, they matter. They matter.”
Earlier this month, Grimes and McConnell and some of their staff battled via news releases and Twitter about which candidate was the most gun-friendly after the National Rifle Association endorsed McConnell.
Grimes said she is a member of the NRA and released a photograph of herself shooting a rifle. She challenged McConnell to meet her on the gun range.
After Monday’s event, the pool reporter heard a man ask Grimes “how things were going in Kentucky.”
“Kickin’ butt and takin’ names,” the Secretary of State said.
McConnell’s campaign quickly sought to do the same, saying that “Grimes thought she could keep Kentuckians in the dark about what they talk about at her fundraisers with rich Obama contributors in New York and Hollywood, but the cat is now out of the bag.”
“It’s incredible that she doesn’t have the courtesy to share her views with Kentucky voters but she’s thrilled to travel the country attending events with liberal Obama supporters to discuss their pride in Obamacare and efforts to enact gun control,” McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said.
The Grimes campaign, having focused much of its efforts on winning over women voters, replied that “the Women’s Senate Network meeting was an opportunity for Alison to speak with female small business owners and leaders.”
“Just as she has throughout her life, Alison will continue fighting for women as Kentucky’s first female United States Senator,” Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton said.
Norton added: “This stands in stark contrast to Mitch McConnell who has failed to stand up for women for nearly 30 years. From calling equal pay for equal work just another ‘special interest vote,’ to labeling the Violence Against Women Act a ‘distraction’ and a ‘completely manufactured’ issue, Mitch McConnell’s lip service to women is offensive and hypocritical.”
Grimes has maintained a low public profile since entering the race, well aware of McConnell’s stated goal of making next year’s Senate race a referendum on the president, who remains deeply unpopular in Kentucky.
She has been especially cautious about declaring her stances on hot-button issues, none more so that Obama’s health care law.
Grimes has said she has troubles with part of the law, which since Oct. 1 has been beset with problems that threaten to devastate Obama’s agenda, but she has been reluctant to fully embrace or denounce the Affordable Care Act.
Since entering the race, Grimes has focused the majority of her time on fundraising as she tries to catch up with McConnell’s $10 million cash-on-hand war chest.
According to a report last month in The New York Times, the luncheon was focused on “women’s economic issues, health care and the environment.”
The report said tickets to the event ranged from $250 to $50,000, with a required $1,000 to attend lunch with the First Lady.