Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has stepped into the middle of a nasty basketball rivalry after a new campaign ad about Kentucky’s dominance featured Duke University winning the national title.
The McConnell campaign released a video Tuesday morning saying that “rebuilding America begins in Kentucky by making McConnell majority leader.”
Like many of McConnell’s Hollywood-produced ads, the online video has epic music and images targeting voters in the Bluegrass and country.
However, when highlighting the state’s basketball dominance—2013 NCAA Champion Louisville Cardinals and 2012 NCAA Champion Kentucky Wildcats—the ad mistakenly uses the Duke Blue Devils’ 2010 championship victory.
It’s only for a brief moment at the 1:09 mark, but the celebration in blue and white clearly isn’t the beloved Wildcats.
McConnell is a graduate of both Louisville and Kentucky, and has tried to avoid taking sides publicly as the two teams are set to play in the Sweet 16 on Friday. It goes without saying that Duke is disliked among Kentucky basketball fans and sports commentators have pounced on the senator’s re-election team for upsetting UK fans.
The McConnell campaign quickly yanked the ad and spokeswoman Allison Moore apologized for the error.
“The ad was intended to highlight Kentucky’s basketball dominance and obviously the web ad vendor has become so accustomed to watching national championship celebrations in the bluegrass state that they made a mistake with one of the images,” she says. “Obviously we were horrified by the error and quickly changed it.”
Other McConnell aides tell WFPL they “bungled” the situation and that it was a “stupid mistake” that the campaign fully expects to take criticism over.
Likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes took some basketball jabs at McConnell through Twitter, saying she would never “glorify a Duke championship in a campaign ad.”
Here is a new version of the McConnell ad featuring Kentucky forward Julius Randle.
Perhaps adding fuel to the situation is that the Duke footage was first discovered by LEO Weekly news editor Joe Sonka, who just last week was barred from a McConnell press conference by Louisville police.
That event was supposed to focus on McConnell’s foreign policy views alongside Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, but instead unraveled into coverage about the GOP leader’s tense relationship with the press.
The Duke ad may not be a major policy fumble, but it will likely end up being another unforced error by McConnell’s campaign that distracts from their original message.
UPDATE 5:10 p.m.:
After fixing the ad featuring Duke University, McConnell’s re-election team has pulled the fixed version apparently due to possible NCAA rules violations.
The NCAA by-laws explicitly forbid student-athletes from making any endorsements whether expressed or implied. If their images are used without their knowledge then they are “required to take steps to stop such an activity in order to retain his or her eligibility.”
The McConnell campaign has not responded to our request for comment.
UPDATE 6:09 p.m.:
The ad has followed McConnell to Washington, where a reporter asked if he was a University of Louisville or Duke University basketball fan.
Observers note that the senator appears to answer as if the question were about the Louisville v. Kentucky game.
UPDATE 6:48 p.m.:
Even though the audio of the New York Daily News reporter sounds clear that apparently wasn’t what McConnell heard during the noisy Capitol Hill press stakeout.
Senate spokesman Robert Steurer tells WFPL the GOP leader was talking about the Louisville versus Kentucky basketball rivalry.
“The question that those of us who were there heard, and that Senator McConnell obviously answered, was U of L vs. UK,” he says.