SHEPHERDSVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Senate's top Republican said Monday the "gender card alone" won't be enough to propel Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton to the White House.
"I don't think arguing 'vote for me because I'm a woman' is enough," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said while sizing up next year's presidential race during a speech in his home state of Kentucky. "You may recall my election last year. The gender card alone is not enough."
In 2014, McConnell's Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, claimed the longtime Republican incumbent was insensitive on gender issues such as pay equity. McConnell trounced Grimes in the election, capitalizing on President Barack Obama's deep unpopularity in Kentucky.
McConnell said Monday there are millions of Americans who "would love to have a woman president."
"The question is, a woman president to do what?" he said. "And I think inevitably, Hillary Clinton's campaign will be four more years of the last eight."
Clinton responded that McConnell's comments indicate he "really doesn't get it."
"There is a gender card being played in this campaign," she said. "It's played every time Republicans vote against giving women equal pay, deny families access to affordable child care or family leave, refuse to let women make decisions about their health or have access to free contraception. These aren't just women's issues, they are economic issues that drive growth and affect all Americans."
Clinton responded during a question-and-answer session hosted by Facebook.
McConnell said Clinton, his former Senate colleague, is smart and capable but added there's "not a dime's worth of difference between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in terms of policy." He said he expects she will be the Democratic nominee.
"She's going to run straight left, just like the president did," McConnell said. "And their gamble is that the country is farther left than it used to be."
He called it a flawed strategy that the Republican presidential nominee can exploit.
"I think our nominee ought to say something like this: 'She's right, if you're happy with the last eight years, she's your candidate. But if you think America can do better by taking a different path, I'm your choice,'" McConnell said.
While McConnell discussed next year's presidential race during a speech in which he condemned Obama's record on an array of domestic and foreign policy issues, the senator was silent on this year's pivotal race for governor in his home state.
Later, McConnell told reporters the lack of comments about this year's top-of-the-ticket election in Kentucky wasn't a slight toward GOP nominee Matt Bevin, his one-time rival. Bevin, a Louisville businessman, last year tried but failed to wrest away McConnell's Senate seat in a bruising Republican primary.
"I certainly am enthusiastically supporting the nominee of our party," McConnell said. "I think we have an excellent chance of winning."
Bevin faces Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway in Kentucky's gubernatorial election in November.
Current Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear is in his second term and can't serve again because of term limits
Asked why he didn't talk more about Bevin, McConnell said his speech was focused largely on national issues and his new job as the Senate's top leader.
Associates Press writer Lisa Lerer in Washington contributed to this report.