Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is under fire over comments that he later said were misinterpreted about whether it was his responsibility to bring jobs to an eastern Kentucky community.
"Economic development is a Frankfort issue," the five-term Republican said
, referring to the state capitol, the Los Angeles Times reports. "That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet."
McConnell answer, in response to a question from a reporter, was published on Thursday in The Beattyville Enterprise
, a newspaper in Lee County. The county, named for Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee, sits in the eastern Kentucky coalfields region.
With an estimated population of 7,260 last year, Lee County has an unemployment rate of 14.3 percent and a median household income of $22,789, according to federal Census data
When asked about public works projects for Kentucky, the senator told the newspaper that he was interested in bringing in such efforts, but "most comes from the state, though."
McConnell added that his work involved the broader goal of protecting jobs by "pushing back" against the Obama administration’s restrictions on the coal industry.
But McConnell's likely Democratic opponent in November, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, quickly pounced on the comments — charging to The Huffington Post
that "the only job that [McConnell] has cared about over the past 30 years is his own."
McConnell faces a May 20 Republican primary against businessman and tea party-backed challenger Matt Bevin. While recent surveys show him with double-digit leads over Bevin, he is ahead by only 1 percent — 44-43 percent — in recent polls against Grimes
"I stand in complete contrast and disagreement with him," Grimes said on Thursday. "Unlike Mitch McConnell, I listen to Kentuckians.
"It is the job of a U.S. senator to put hard-working Kentucky families back to work and to grow our middle class," she added. "He shocked not just myself but all of Kentucky when he declared that economic development is not his job."
McConnell's office told the Huffington Post in a statement later that his comments were misinterpreted.
"Unfortunately, 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," according to the statement from the senator's office.
"Encouraging positive economic development and job growth is at the center of what I do every day. 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," the statement added.
McConnell noted that he and fellow GOP Sen. Rand Paul sponsored the Economic Freedom Zones Act, "which would spur economic growth in areas such as eastern Kentucky," he said.
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