CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- First lady Michelle Obama told attendees at a fundraiser Monday it's critical West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant becomes the state's next U.S. senator.
That's not an endorsement, a Tennant campaign spokeswoman said Tuesday, and further tried to distance Tennant from the deeply unpopular Obama administration.
Tennant attended the New York fundraiser, said spokeswoman Lisa Duvall. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hosted the event, with tickets selling for anywhere from $250 to $50,000, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader, New York Times and other media reports.
The 2014 elections are key if Democrats want to maintain their six-seat majority in the Senate, Obama said, according to a transcript of her speech.
"So it is critical that we elect Michelle Nunn, Alison Grimes, Natalie Tennant. It is critical we get them to the Senate," Obama said, mentioning two other potential female Democrat Senate candidates.
"What the first lady said is not an endorsement," Duvall said in an email.
Duvall didn't elaborate about Obama's statement, other than to say, "This race is about West Virginia, not Washington."
Duvall used the same phrase after Vice President Joe Biden didn't endorse Tennant during a speech earlier this month at a dinner in Charleston. Biden spoke at the event honoring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va, who announced January he's not seeking re-election.
It's common for West Virginia Democrats to keep President Barack Obama and administration policies at arms length.
The state overwhelmingly supported GOP challenger Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations curbing carbon emissions and the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," are similarly unpopular.
As such, Republicans in the state are typically quick to link local Democrats and national party leaders.
The campaign for Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, Tennant's likely challenger next November, pounced on the first lady's comments.
"At a New York City fundraiser (Monday) Michelle Obama urged New York City donors to give money to Natalie Tennant so that they can pass gun control and protect Obamacare," said campaign manager Chris Hansen.