Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Friday that he voted for Richard Nixon, the only president to resign from office, as he continued to criticize his Democratic opponent for refusing to say if she voted for President Barack Obama.
After speaking at a Commerce Lexington luncheon, McConnell said that Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes' refusal to say if she voted for Obama makes clear that her "entire campaign has been about trying to deceive the voters of Kentucky into thinking she's something she is not."
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During an interview with The Courier-Journal's editorial board Thursday in Louisville, Grimes was evasive when repeatedly asked whether she voted for Obama in 2008 or 2012. She also refused to answer the question when asked by a Herald-Leader reporter last week.
Grimes, who is Kentucky's secretary of state, was a delegate at the 2012 Democratic convention that nominated Obama for re-election and was a delegate for Hillary Clinton at the 2008 Democratic convention that nominated Obama.
"I respect the sanctity of the ballot box," Grimes told the newspaper's editorial board.
Throughout most of this campaign, McConnell, who has been in the U.S. Senate since 1984, has tried to tie Grimes to Obama, who is highly unpopular in the state.
When reporters asked McConnell if he voted for Nixon, McConnell said "I sure did."
McConnell chuckled but said nothing when asked if that meant he approved of Watergate, the political scandal involving a June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters and the Nixon administration's attempted cover-up of its involvement.
The scandal led to Nixon's resignation in August 1974.
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, who was at the Lexington luncheon and is supporting McConnell's re-election, said the Watergate question was unfair.
"First of all, it's a difference in openly supporting somebody who has known fiscal and national policies that you don't agree with versus an individual who, in the case of Nixon, was doing illegal, covert acts," said the senator from Manchester.
Grimes' campaign said in a statement that "Kentuckians aren't fooled by Mitch McConnell's silly partisan games."
McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said in a news release that Grimes' "absurd refusal to answer a simple question that everyone already knows the answer to is proof that Kentuckians could never expect her to be straight with them."
Moore also circulated various national media criticism of Grimes' decision not to say who got her vote for president in 2008 and 2012.
"I think she disqualified herself. I really do. I think she disqualified herself," NBC's Chuck Todd said on MSNBC'S Morning Joe.
The Washington Post's The Fix blog described Grimes' refusal to answer the question as "40 painful seconds."
ABC'S Jeff Zeleny said "you can't argue that she botched the answer and comes across as being less than forthcoming, straight-forward or honest."
The Kentucky Educational Television network is scheduled to air Oct. 20 a show about young voters called "Ballot Bomb," in which McConnell, Grimes and Libertarian candidate David Patterson were asked about the first time they voted in a presidential contest.
Grimes said she turned 18 in 1996, "unfortunately" after President Bill Clinton's election.
"I had hoped to be able to vote for him. I got a chance though to vote for Secretary (Hillary) Clinton in 2008," she said.
"The issues then, in 1996 that were at the core of the campaign, are the same issues that we're fighting for today: how to make sure that we can put hard-working Kentuckians back to work and grow the middle class," Grimes said.
McConnell said he was 18 in 1960 when he voted for Nixon over eventual Democratic winner John F. Kennedy.
"The reason I did was my dad was a big fan of (Republican) President Eisenhower," McConnell said. "He had fought in World War II under Eisenhower, and thought he was terrific and of course Nixon was his vice president so I proudly, in the middle of a neighborhood that had a whole lot of very enthusiastic Catholics for JFK, I proudly voted for Richard Nixon."
Patterson said the first election he voted in was for Libertarian Gary Johnson in 2012.