A recorded message in some stations on the London Underground – subway on this side of the pond – warns passengers to “mind the gap.”
It looks like Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell has a pair of gaps with many women voters – gender and credibility, the former rooted in the latter. Apparently, he figures he can “mind” them merely by telling one of his flaks to say he’s a true believer in, you guessed it, gender equality.
Polls show McConnell slightly trailing – or tied with – Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, his almost certain Democratic challenger in next year’s senate race.
The same surveys show he’s way behind Grimes among women, who make up about 53 percent of registered voters in the Bluegrass State.
So a Team Mitch spokeswoman promised that “as the father of three daughters, fair pay for women is more than a talking point for Sen. McConnell.” She added, “It’s something he’s worked to achieve his entire career by setting an example for others and promoting thoughtful policies to ensure talent overcomes bias.”
Steve Benen, producer of the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, dared point out that the flak’s words don’t square with her boss’s deeds. Benen blogged that McConnell voted twice against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Benen recalled that in August, the McConnell camp bragged that their guy “is a long-time supporter of the Violence Against Women Act.” Benen wrote that McConnell voted against the measure thrice -- in 1994, 2012, and this year.
“Instead of defending his record, McConnell tried to mislead the public,” Benen said, suggesting, “If the senator is struggling with women voters, he can either apologize for his votes or explain his votes on the merits. Wilful deception only adds insult to injury.”
But “wilful deception” is all McConnell has.
Politically, the senator is in a tight spot on women’s issues. He knows he needs to close the gender gap.
But he has to take care not to rile a big chunk of his base – old conservative white guys who love it when Rush Limbaugh calls feminists “Feminazis,” when a GOP strategist disses Grimes as an “empty dress” and when a Team Mitch player tweets a photo-shopped image of Grimes as the “Obama Girl.”
The ideal woman to a lot of menfolk on Team Mitch -- McConnell, too – is Sarah Palin or her soul mate, reactionary, anti-feminism crusader Phyllis Schlafly, who famously said, “sexual harassment on the job is not a problem for virtuous women.”
This old liberal white guy is for Grimes. She’s too conservative for me, but just about the only elected Kentucky Democrat who’s not is Rep. John Yarmuth of Louisville. He’s another old liberal white guy for Grimes.
You’ve got to wonder how many Kentucky women McConnell is fooling. Lilly Ledbetter is on to the senator. She’s come out for Grimes, though she can’t vote for her.
Ledbetter is from Alabama, where McConnell was born. Hence, Grimes, captain of Team Switch, says she doesn’t just want to retire the captain of Team Mitch to Kentucky. She wants him to send him back to Sweet Home Alabama.
Anyway, Ledbetter recently authored a fund-raising email for Grimes that echoed what her candidate has been saying about McConnell:
“Time and again, McConnell has made clear where he stands on issues important to women and their families: in the wrong. His horrendous record underscores just how much is at stake in this race.”
he added, “Unfortunately, McConnell was not satisfied with voting against equal pay just once – a display of anti-woman bile. More recently, the self-anointed ‘proud guardian of gridlock’ has twice been instrumental in blocking the Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would strengthen penalties for discrimination against women in the workplace.”
Benen suggests McConnell should either apologize for his votes or make a case for them. Since most women probably wouldn’t buy whatever case McConnell might make, I suspect he’ll stick to scripting platitudes and trotting out flaks to spout them on cue.
Anyway, Mitt Romney didn’t mind his gender and credibility gaps last year, and he’s private citizen Romney. That’s ditto for Virginia governor-wannabe Ken Cuccinelli last month.
On issues that really matter to most women, McConnell’s ear is every bit as tin as Romney’s or Cuccinelli’s.
McConnell would do well to heed the words of Madeline McDowell Breckinridge of Lexington, whose early 20th-century campaigning for women’s suffrage helped pry open the door for 21st century politicians like Grimes.
Breckinridge often used humor to make serious points. So does Grimes -- “If the doctors told Sen. McConnell he had a kidney stone, he would refuse to pass it," she said.
“Kentucky woman are not idiots—even though they are closely related to Kentucky men,” Breckinridge declared. “You can’t ignore them and treat them as if they were kindergarten children.”
I’d bet the farm that McConnell thinks he can.