Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes moved quickly Tuesday to label Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as unfriendly to women after Republican operatives publicized a photo of Grimes' face on the body of a woman in a tight-fitting shirt with her midriff exposed.
The picture, which combined Grimes with the "Obama girl" who gained momentary fame during President Barack Obama's first presidential campaign, was described by the Grimes campaign as a "sexualized attack" that shows McConnell does not stand up for women.
An unnamed staffer at the National Republican Senatorial Committee posted a link on Twitter to the altered photo and asked whether "Grimes Is The New 'Obama Girl'?" The link went to BluegrassBulletin.com, the blog of Kentucky Republican Marcus Carey.
Iris Wilbur, McConnell's political director, also retweeted the NRSC post on her personal Twitter account.
"The incredibly inappropriate comments from Sen. McConnell's team mark a developing pattern and demonstrate just how out of touch McConnell is with the women of Kentucky," Grimes said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the NRSC, which has close ties to McConnell and his allies, said the committee was appalled by the tweet.
"We agree, it's extremely offensive," NRSC spokeswoman Brooke Hougesen said. "It was a mistake made by a junior staffer and disciplinary action has been taken. We took corrective action as soon as it was brought to our attention and have taken steps to ensure it will never happen again."
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee called on McConnell to "immediately condemn the offensive and sexist comments from national GOP operatives," but McConnell's campaign attempted to downplay the incident.
McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said it is "really pathetic that the Grimes campaign is more worried about what some intern in the basement of the NRSC is tweeting rather than talking about the real issues facing Kentucky."
The tweet came a day after Grimes attended a fundraiser with first lady Michelle Obama in New York, at which Obama talked about the need to elect female Democratic senators. Obama noted the narrow margin by which the president's health care law passed and gun control legislation failed.
Moore said Tuesday that the Grimes campaign is "desperate to distract from the real news" that Obama needs Grimes in the Senate to "protect Obamacare and push gun control."
Grimes has made winning over women voters a key strategy of her campaign, portraying McConnell's voting record as hostile to women. She has repeatedly accused McConnell of calling the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act a "special interest vote" and the Violence Against Women Act a "distraction."
The opening salvo in the war for Kentucky's women came in early September after NRSC staffer Brad Dayspring, criticizing Grimes' repetition of talking points provided by the DSCC, told The Hill newspaper in an email that Grimes was an "empty dress."
Grimes has incorporated that criticism into a number of counter-attacks on McConnell.
"As I have said, I am proud to wear a dress, and as Kentucky's more than 2 million women know, it is not what is in the dress that matters," Grimes said Tuesday. "It is what is in the head and I will stack my head up against Sen. McConnell's any day."
The DSCC joined Grimes in her criticism of the NRSC's latest tweet.
"Yet again national Republicans are hurling despicable and sexist insults by offensively attempting to reduce Alison Lundergan Grimes to a love-struck, sex-crazed girl from a viral video," spokeswoman Regan Page said in a statement.
The original "Obama girl," Amber Lee Ettinger, gained momentary fame when a video she made singing about her "crush on Obama" went viral on YouTube. She wears tight-fighting clothes, a bikini and underwear emblazoned with "Obama" as she sings.
DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky declined to elaborate on the characterization of Ettinger as "sex-crazed," referring back to the original statement as the committee's official response.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Grimes campaign also released a list of statements from prominent female Kentucky Democrats assailing McConnell and the NRSC.
"As a woman, I am personally shocked and offended by this demeaning, sexist characterization of Alison Lundergan Grimes," former state auditor and potential gubernatorial candidate Crit Luallen said. "The people, and the women, of Kentucky deserve better from their senior senator."
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com