Former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines has become central to the political fight against transgender women participating in women’s and girls sports. Gaines grew her fame in the wake of her tying transgender woman swimmer Lia Thomas, of the University of Pennsylvania, at an NCAA event. Since then, she’s shown up on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show and alongside GOP candidates like Herschel Walker at campaign events.
Now she’s headlining U.S. Senator Rand Paul’s latest ad, the latest example of the Paul campaign’s, and Kentucky Republicans’, focus on rhetoric against transgender people. In the ad, Gaines recounts her experience as a student-athlete.
“I trained from an early age, giving it my all to achieve my dream. And I accomplished it, becoming a 12-time All-American swimmer at the University of Kentucky. But for girls across America, that dream is being taken away by men competing in women’s sports,” Gaines said, repeating a common conservative talking point by referring to transgender women as men.
Gaines said in the ad that Paul would “fight for fairness for women and girls,” which is why she’s supporting him. The ad is the fourth released by the Paul campaign this month, and is up on television this week, according to Paul campaign spokesman Jake Cox.
Paul’s wife, Kelley, made transgender people and gender identity one of the main themes of her stump speech at Fancy Farm, a prominent political speaking event in West Kentucky. She and several other Kentucky GOP figures misgendered transgender women at that event.
During this past legislative session, Republican lawmakers backing the effort to bar transgender girls and women from competing in girls and women’s sports struggled when questioned to find an example of Kentucky athletes affected by the inclusion of transgender women or girls. They later found one in Gaines, who appeared at a press conference for the bill, which ultimately became law.
Available polling finds that most Americans do not support allowing transgender female athletes to compete in high school or college sports with other women.
The campaign for Charles Booker, a former state House representative and candidate, changed the subject to abortion when asked about the ad.
“Parents across Kentucky are terrified that Rand Paul is the leading advocate for a full and complete ban on abortion, even if their daughter is tragically raped, a victim of incest, or will die from pregnancy,” Booker said in a statement.
Abortion is a topic that Americans, by and large, trust Democrats to handle more than Republicans. Paul has been staunchly anti-abortion in his legislative career, arguing that life begins at conception. In Kentucky and celebrating the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade. He and Booker will share a ballot with an anti-abortion constitutional amendment that would bar courts from interpreting a right to an abortion in the state constitution if passed.
The ad immediately drew the support of the Republican Party of Kentucky. RPK spokesman Sean Southard said the ad “shows the stark contrast between the mainstream values of the Republican Party and the woke ideology of the Democrat Party.”
“Kentuckians stand with Senator Paul, Riley Gaines, and our commonsense values, while Charles Booker will always kneel to the whims of the radical left,” Southard wrote.