Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes declined Wednesday to say whether she would pull a television ad that three left-leaning, pro-immigration reform groups have condemned as "offensive" and "hurtful."
In the ad, a narrator uses the term "illegal aliens," and Grimes looks at the camera and says she approves its message "because I've never supported amnesty or benefits for illegal immigrants and I never will."
"The Grimes campaign must take down this offensive ad," Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America, said in a statement Tuesday evening. "It's simply wrong for any Democrat to use right-wing talking points and dehumanize struggling immigrant families."
MoveOn.org and America's Voice issued similar condemnations of the ad.
After speaking at a Commerce Lexington policy breakfast Wednesday, Grimes refused to acknowledge or answer repeated questions about whether her campaign will pull the ad.
Jonathan Hurst, Grimes' campaign manager, has not answered direct questions in emails about removing the ad, but after Grimes' event Wednesday morning, he said in a statement that "Alison favors comprehensive immigration reform."
"Neither the recent bill that passed the Senate nor any other serious bill currently supported by most Democrats and Republicans is amnesty," Hurst said. U.S. Senate Minority Leader "Mitch McConnell's hypocrisy on this issue is breathtaking."
During the breakfast, someone in the audience said he had seen the ads Grimes was running and asked her about the effect of the absence of immigration reform on business interests.
After first saying that groups allied with McConnell have spent millions of dollars in "negative nasty ads" about her, Grimes said, "I realize, unlike our current senator, that comprehensive immigration reform is necessary.
"He stood in the way, voted against bipartisan legislation that came out of the Senate," she said of McConnell. "I disagree with that. I will not do that. I believe that immigration reform is necessary, but it has to be an earned pathway to citizenship. We have to secure our borders because that is having an impact here in Kentucky."
Grimes, Kentucky's secretary of state, again said she favored an "earned pathway to citizenship," saying: "You've got a good job, you have a background check, you learn English, you pay your taxes. That's the American way."
"That's what our senator voted against. When in fact, back several years ago, he voted to give amnesty to over 3 million undocumented immigrants. I realize what he doesn't: 4 percent of the work force here in Kentucky, they are undocumented immigrants. I realize they are already paying a sales tax that has a positive impact in our economy. I realize if we have comprehensive immigration reform it will be a success for the people here in Kentucky and for our economy."
Grimes' repeated use of the phrase "undocumented immigrants" suggests her campaign as aware of the intense criticism it had received from fellow Democrats for using the term "illegal aliens" in her ad.
According to the statement that Democracy for America released late Tuesday, the group "is working with allies in Kentucky on a $500,000 field-based campaign focused on defeating Mitch McConnell."
"Democracy for America members have been proud to work with allies to end Mitch McConnell's 30-year career in Washington and save the Senate from Republican control, but every moment Secretary Grimes fails to remove this hurtful ad ignores the plight of millions and makes our work more difficult," Chamberlain, its executive director, said.
Grimes, who has endured ridicule from the national media for her refusal to say whether she voted for President Barack Obama, also was asked by a Republican in the audience whether she would vote for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to maintain his position if she is elected.
Grimes jokingly responded: "I want to thank you for presuming the win already on Nov. 4. Would you call my husband and tell him that as well?"
She then said, "I will evaluate every decision on 'Is it best for Kentucky? Is it best for this state, our people?'"
Grimes went on to say that she has her "disagreements with the president, with Senator Reid, with other senators that are in the United States Senate, but what I believe I've shown, especially as secretary of state, is the ability, the willingness and the initiative to reach out across the aisle and put the partisanship aside and actually work to get great things done for the people of Kentucky."