(CNN) – During an interview on CNN, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday defended his wife against what he described as a "racial slur" by a left-wing group.
The group, Progress Kentucky, ignited controversy after it drew a connection between McConnell's wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, and the practice of outsourcing.
"This woman has the ear of @McConnellPress – she's his #wife," the February 14 tweet from the group reads, referring to McConnell by his official Twitter account. "May explain why your job moved to #China!"
The five-term senator is up for re-election in 2014. His campaign manager, Jesse Benton, blasted the group last week, which sparked similar condemnations from a number of political groups and blogs, both Republican and Democratic.
McConnell also brought it up in his interview Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union." "The race will take care of itself in 2014, but I must say it has kind of started early," he said, before talking about the tweet and adding that the group also questioned his patriotism.
Kentucky Progress, a group that wants to oust McConnell from his seat, apologized to the senator, his wife, and the group's supporters for the tweet on Friday.
"Those tweets did not reflect our values, and we are committed to making sure nothing like that happens again," Shawn Reilly, the executive director, wrote in a statement on the their website.
"Our key goal is to elevate the conversation about Senator McConnell’s record and the kind of representation Kentucky deserves. We didn’t advance that goal with a few of our tweets. We pledge to do better in the future," he continued.
Reilly also apologized for how the group handled its response to the criticism, and further detailed that the volunteer responsible for the tweet is no longer affiliated with the group. Curtis Morrison, a spokesperson with the group, also stepped down.
The Kentucky Republican said this isn't the first time.
"It's happened before. The chairman of the Democratic Party a few years back engaged in the same kind of thing," he said, without going into specifics. "My wife is a proud Chinese-American. She was secretary of labor during the Bush administration. Her family escaped from the Communists in mainland China, made their way to America and have lived the American dream."
"And for that," he continued, "racial slurs by the Democrats in Kentucky - it sort of goes with the turf at home."
McConnell added "left-wingers" across the country view the 2014 election as a big chance to take down the top Republican in the Senate.
"So we expect a spirited race," he said. "We'll be ready for them."
The tweet can no longer be seen on Progress Kentucky's Twitter page.
Actress and activist Ashley Judd, who has said she is considering a run on the Democratic ticket for McConnell's seat, also lambasted the group.
"Whatever the intention, whatever the venue, whomever the person, attacks or comments on anyone's ethnicity are wrong & patently unacceptable," she wrote Wednesday on Twitter.
Conservative groups and even McConnell's campaign have launched Web ads against Judd pre-emptively, as she's considered the only Democrat seriously contemplating a run.
Asked by CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley if he could handle a challenge by the Hollywood actress, McConnell said he'll wait to see who's nominated. "We'll be happy to run against whomever is chosen," he said.