FRANKFORT, Ky. — US Senator Mitch McConnell said Thursday that his comments to a local newspaper that it is ‘‘not my job’’ to bring employment to a struggling Kentucky county were taken out of context.
For a story in the Beattyville Enterprise, McConnell was asked what he would do to bring jobs to Lee County, where the unemployment rate is 12.8 percent.
‘‘That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet,’’ the paper quoted McConnell in its story Thursday, which ran on the paper’s front page.
McConnell said in a statement Thursday that his comments were taken out of context.
‘‘It seems my message got lost in translation, and I was surprised to see a headline about my visit that sent the exact opposite message to the one I was trying to convey,’’ he said in the statement. ‘‘In my travels across the Commonwealth, I hear too often how government is blocking job creation. It’s up to all of us — at the federal, state, and local levels — to fix that.’’
Beattyville Enterprise editor Edmund Shelby said he stands by his story. ‘‘He said that, and I swear those were his words,’’ Shelby said. ‘‘If [Democratic US Senate candidate Alison Lundergan] Grimes would come to town, I would ask the same question.’’
Grimes wasted no time attacking McConnell for his comments to the newspaper and used the opportunity to tout her jobs plan that would, among other things, raise the minimum wage and invest in infrastructure. Grimes added that her top priorities as US senator would be ‘‘creating good-paying jobs for Kentuckians and growing our middle class.’’
‘‘It is reprehensible that Mitch McConnell believes that it is not his job to help Kentucky families who are struggling to make ends meet,’’ Grimes said in a statement provided by her campaign.
McConnell pointed out that he sponsored federal legislation last year with fellow Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, that would lower federal tax rates for areas that have high unemployment — a bill McConnell said would benefit eastern Kentucky. The bill has not become law.
‘‘Encouraging positive economic development and job growth is at the center of what I do every day,’’ McConnell said in his statement. ‘‘At the federal level I support policies to try to improve the economy as a whole, which in turn will help preserve and create Kentucky’s jobs. These efforts include supporting an end to President Obama’s war on coal and repealing job-killing Obamacare.’’
McConnell and Grimes are locked in one of the closest Senate races in the country in an election cycle where Republicans are trying to take control of the Senate.
Meanwhile, the Republican candidate who is trying to unseat McConnell said it was ‘‘a bad idea’’ to outlaw cockfighting and that he ‘‘will not support it.’’
Matt Bevin made the comments during a rally on March 29 in Corbin, according to a report by WAVE TV.
Asked if he would vote to legalize cockfighting, Bevin said: ‘‘Criminalizing behavior, if it’s part of the heritage of this state, is in my opinion a bad idea. A bad idea. I will not support it.’’
The comments contradict Bevin’s earlier statements that he was speaking to the group about his Senate candidacy and that he did not know it was a rally to legalize cockfighting. Bevin later told the station he does not personally support cockfighting.
‘‘What I stand behind is people’s ability to examine their First Amendment rights to speak about whatever they want to speak about,’’ he said.
The disclosures come less than a month before the Republican primary.
A spokeswoman for McConnell called Bevin an ‘‘East Coast con man’’ who ‘‘thought so little of Kentuckians that he pathologically lied to us about absolutely everything until an undercover camera caught him red-handed at a cockfighting rally.’’