Just days after Democrats scrambled to disavow a political consultant’s comments about the ethnicity of former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, she is starring in a new ad on behalf of her husband, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The television ad, released Tuesday morning, features Chao appealing directly to women, a demographic that Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has openly coveted since challenging McConnell.
Chao, who was Labor Secretary under former President George W. Bush, asks in the ad: “Have you ever noticed how some liberals feel entitled to speak on behalf of all women?”
“As if every woman agrees with Barack Obama,” Chao says to the camera.
The battle for women — 53 percent of the vote — in this year’s U.S. Senate race has been a nonstop and bruising affair, as Grimes and her campaign have repeatedly leveled accusations of sexism and misogyny at the state’s senior senator.
In an ad Grimes released last week, she focuses on McConnell’s votes not to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act and against equal pay proposals. At the Fancy Farm picnic on Saturday, she put an explanation point on her argument. “If Mitch McConnell were a TV show, he’d be Mad Men,” she said. “Treating women unfairly, stuck in 1968 and ending this season.”
In McConnell’s response ad, Chao calls the attacks “desperate and false.”
“Alison, supporting the Obama administration isn’t pro-women,” Chao says. “It’s anti-Kentucky.”
The ad notes that McConnell co-sponsored the original Violence Against Women Act and says that he has supported even stronger protections for women “than Obama’s agenda will allow.”
The law helps fund investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes against women and requires restitution for those crimes. McConnell and most other Republicans in the Senate voted against reauthorizing the law last year, which expanded protections for gays, undocumented immigrants and Native American women who are abused.
In a statement, Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton dismissed McConnell’s latest ad as empty rhetoric.
“Simply saying, ‘I’m married to a woman’ doesn’t speak loud enough,” Norton said. “Your actions and record over 30 years in Washington indicate where and how you will stand up for women.”
Chao, who came to the U.S. in the hull of a freighter ship at age 8, is making her television debut in the general election after a Kentucky Democratic operative came under fire for posting on Twitter about Chao’s Asian heritage.
Kathy Groob, the founder of a pro-Grimes Democratic Super PAC who attended a Grimes event in Northern Kentucky with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow in February, said Saturday on Twitter that by bringing Chao into the race, her ethnicity is “fair game” to criticize.
The Kentucky Democratic Party denounced the comments, and Groob deleted them.
Grimes had a 12-point lead among women in a Bluegrass Poll in February, but the Bluegrass Poll released last week showed her lead among women down to one point.