State Rep. Stan Lee apologizes after joke about Grimes' 'empty dress' falls flat at GOP dinner

syoungman@herald-leader.comApril 27, 2014 

Stan Lee (R) Lexington, unsuccessfully tried to add an amendment to the budget bill the House of Representatives at the Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on March 13, 2014. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff

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Republican state Rep. Stan Lee dusted off a remark Saturday night that had caused trouble for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Lee took it even further, then took it back Sunday.

Lee, riffing as emcee of the Fayette County Reagan Day dinner after McConnell had spoken, said he didn't understand what was wrong with calling likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes an "empty dress."

Brad Dayspring, a staffer at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, sparked an outcry when he told The Hill newspaper in September that Grimes was an "empty dress."

Grimes and her campaign seized on the remark, and Grimes often says on the campaign trail that she would put her empty dress "up against Mitch McConnell's empty head" any time.

During the dinner at the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort & Spa, Lee gave Grimes more ammunition.

While the audience laughed with Lee as he made jokes about the Democratic Party and former President Bill Clinton, the room was silent when Lee said he didn't understand the "snake over this empty dress comment."

"Really, I don't get it," Lee said. "Now if he'd said, you know, maybe you look fat in that empty dress, then I could see her getting mad. But I don't get the rest of it."

On Sunday, Lee issued an apology.

"I certainly would like to apologize to anyone who was highly offended or found my clumsy attempt at humor, inappropriate," he said. "In today's society, humor can often be a difficult thing to handle in an honorable way. And for this additional reason, I am deeply sorry for offending anyone last evening."

His step back came after swift negative reaction to his initial comment.

Jonathan Hurst, senior adviser to the Grimes campaign, said in a statement that "Mitch McConnell sat idle as his own event host publicly degraded women, and his campaign remains silent."

"It is no wonder the women of Kentucky have left his side due to his failed 30-year record of opposing the Violence Against Women Act and equal pay for equal work," Hurst said. "Kentucky women are overwhelmingly supporting Alison Lundergan Grimes — a true champion for women and families. Will Mitch McConnell denounce this latest offensive and sexist comment and finally stand up for women across the commonwealth?"

McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore had called on Lee to apologize soon after he made the remark.

"We're all for a joke at dinner, but Rep. Lee's attempt at humor was highly offensive and inappropriate," Moore said Saturday night. "We have always known Rep. Lee to be a man of good character and hope that he will do the right thing and apologize."

In his remarks at the dinner, McConnell, whom Lee introduced as "soon to be the majority leader of the U.S. Senate," used his familiar campaign theme that Grimes would be a rubber stamp for President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"My opponent is a new face, but she's a new face for the status quo," McConnell said. "A new face for no change at all. A new face for the current majority leader of the Senate who said 'coal makes you sick.' She's a vote for the status quo."

McConnell said that to change the direction of the country, voters needed to give Republicans a majority in the Senate and elect a new majority leader, joking, "I have somebody in mind."

Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com. Staff writer Bill Estep contributed to this article.

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