(cartoon actor recreation of Sen. Mitch McConnell on Tuesday)
Yesterday morning, the campaign of Sen. Mitch McConnell released another hilarious video by boy wonder Lucas Baiano that tried to make Kentucky’s senior senator look like a mix of Vin Diesel and Abraham Lincoln. Over the audio of McConnell’s CPAC speech — and wild cheering that was canned — the viewer sees all-American and all-Kentuckian images such as horses, Muhammad Ali, cute children holding American flags, mom and apple pie…
…and the celebration by the Duke Blue Devils after winning the 2010 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
I was the tenth person to watch this video yesterday morning, and when I got to the very end I noticed not just the Louisville player going in for a dunk, but another quick image that looked out of place. It was two players celebrating as confetti rained upon them, but it sure as hell didn’t look like UK players. I thought to myself: What team wearing blue and white recently won a national championship? After tracing back the past few winners in my head, a ridiculously improbable thought struck me, just as my finely tuned Duke Hatred Spidey Sense began to tingle. Surely not…
After going back and freezing the frame at the 1:09 mark, I recognized those devilish stripes on the uniform and that very Dukie face. To double-verify I checked the Duke 2010 roster, and sure enough there was Lance Thomas, No. 42. I ripped the video — as I was quite certain this would soon erase from the Interwebs — and tweeted out the news about the implausible stars of McConnell’s new ad.
I’m sure the McConnell campaign was thrilled that it was me — who they threatened to arrest last week for wanting to ask the senator a question at a press conference — who found the Dukies and saved the video from the memory hole. Maybe if I was wearing a Duke jersey that day I could have slid into the press conference undetected.
McConnell’s campaign immediately pulled down the video — which I put back up on YouTube and currently has a staggering 45,000 views — and said they were “horrified,” as they thought the clip was of UK celebrating their championship in 2012. Though most Kentuckians can tell the difference between UK and Duke players, we must remember that Baiano, Jesse Benton, Josh Holmes, and most people high up in Team Mitch are not from Kentucky, so they apparently don’t have this Bluegrass-bred sensibility. “Larry Cox isn’t walking through that door,” one might say, but Team Mitch probably wouldn’t get that reference.
The campaigns of Alison Lundergan Grimes and Matt Bevin, as well as national Democrats and media all over the country, immediately heaped a pile of mockery on McConnell. Grimes’ campaign tweeted out, “KY, as your next Senator, I promise to never glorify a Duke championship in a campaign ad like @Team_Mitch” and “Turns out @Team_Mitch has been in DC for so long he can’t tell the difference between UK & Duke basketball,” playing off their theme that McConnell has lost touch with Kentuckians.
And then there were things like this, from David Schankula of B&P:
In an effort to save face — and all of the money they spent on the video — McConnell’s campaign put the video back up, but replaced the happy Dukies with a photo of UK’s star forward Julius Randle. Problem solved, right?
At a press conference in D.C. later that afternoon, a reporter for the New York Daily News asked a wonderfully smart ass question to McConnell, inquiring whether he is a Louisville fan or a Duke fan. Nevertheless, it was a total softball question for McConnell to… swing at and miss completely, as he refused to answer it, going into a “gosh, people in Louisville sure to love their basketball, don’t they?” answer.
McConnell’s staff later said that he heard “UK” and not “Duke,” when he answered the question. So let’s get this straight. When Mitch is shown video of Duke players he sees UK players, and when someone says “Duke” he hears “UK”? In a state where most voters revere UK basketball as much as the Baby Jesus — and hate Duke as much as… well, possibly more than anything on Earth — that seems like a very politically problematic trait to have.
But back to Julius Randle, where McConnell stepped on possibly his biggest rake of the day yet. It turns out that UK was concerned about a possible NCAA violation caused by Team Mitch using Randle in the video, so they sent a cease and desist letter to McConnell demanding that he take it down, which they did.
“NCAA by-laws prohibit student-athletes from making any endorsements or appearances for commercial purposes, whether expressed or implied. If a player’s image is used without their knowledge then either they or the university is required to take steps to stop such activity in order to retain their eligibility.”
Another political rule of thumb in the state of Kentucky: Potentially jeopardizing the eligibility of UK’s best player just before their biggest game of the year, simply so you can exploit his popularity for your own personal political gain, is somewhat frowned upon in these parts. In fact, doing such a thing — along with putting celebrating Dukies in your campaign video because your campaign doesn’t know the difference between UK and Duke — can land you a front page in Kentucky’s biggest newspaper that looks like this:
Now you might be asking yourself — especially if you’re from out of state and not familiar with our unique culture, like much of Team Mitch’s top staff — isn’t this whole thing stupid and trivial? In one sense, of course it is. Which team you root for to throw the bouncy ball into the basket has absolutely nothing to do with how you’ll vote as a senator. But in the very practical sense of being elected senator in Kentucky, yes, this could very well matter a great deal. Not many voters in Kentucky are paying close attention to this Senate race yet, or focusing on the various candidates policy positions. But this? Everyone heard about this yesterday, and in the lead up to Friday’s big game, people will be talking about it constantly. What kind of person confuses UK with Duke? How could they have used Randle like that and risk his eligibility even in the slightest? Those are the questions that everyone will be asking each other in all corners of the state for the rest of the week. That’s not exactly the first impression you want to have among voters who have tuned out politics and this campaign so far.
And it’s not like Team Mitch took the high road, either, which they could have. Instead of just sticking with the line of “This isn’t important, and our opponents using this to attack us just shows how trivial and un-serious they are,” they told every reporter within earshot that Grimes picked Kentucky to lose to 34-0 one-seed Wichita State in the second round of the tournament, so she has to answer to voters for that. Uh huh. Such complaining didn’t just undermine their public argument, but one could also point out that McConnell didn’t even have Kentucky making it out of the first round — he didn’t release a bracket — and everyone on earth knows that if Grimes or Bevin did the same thing, McConnell’s campaign would have unmercifully exploited it.
This race certainly isn’t going to hinge on McConnell raking himself until he was Blue Deviled in the face yesterday. But no, this certainly did not help his cause. Because, as Coach John Calipari loves to say over and over again, “You people are crazy!”