Election 2020-Kentucky Senate
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Democrat Amy McGrath's Senate campaign missed a Friday deadline set by an attorney seeking a reply to demands from two retired Kentucky coal miners that their images be removed from a campaign ad attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
McGrath's campaign said both men signed a form giving their permission to appear in the TV ad. The miners appear only briefly in the commercial and had no speaking roles.
The dispute has become the latest distraction for McGrath, who stumbled soon after announcing her 2020 bid to unseat McConnell when she went back and forth on whether she would have voted to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Attorney Christopher Thacker sent McGrath's campaign a cease-and-desist letter dated Wednesday demanding that the campaign stop using the miners' images in the TV ad. The ad debuted Aug. 23 and is scheduled to continue airing until mid-September across much of Kentucky.
The miners, Randy Robbins and Albrow Hall, believed the filming was for a documentary to raise awareness about black lung disease, Thacker said.
Thacker's letter sought a response from McGrath's campaign by the close of business Friday. By early evening, Thacker said he had not heard from the campaign.
"I'm disappointed," he said in a phone interview. "I would hope that if nothing else, out of respect for the miners, even if the campaign disagrees with their position, that we would have at least gotten the courtesy of a response."
A McGrath campaign spokesman said Friday night that the campaign is "in the process of responding."
The ad features a group of miners suffering from black lung who traveled by bus to Washington, D.C., to ask McConnell to restore a higher tax on coal companies to help fund the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. Some miners were disappointed McConnell spent only a brief time with them. McGrath called it proof that McConnell "left our coal miners behind years ago."
McConnell's campaign responded to the ad by saying "nobody has done more for Kentucky coal miners" than the Republican senator, and said it's Democratic supporters of a Green New Deal who are trying to put miners out of work.
Thacker's letter said his clients were "shocked and outraged" when they saw themselves in the ad. The miners don't want black lung benefits to become a partisan issue, their attorney said.
Thacker has Republican ties, having been appointed to Kentucky's Executive Branch Ethics Commission by GOP Gov. Matt Bevin.
McGrath's campaign has responded that both miners signed release forms giving permission for McGrath's ad consultant to use their images in "promotional materials." Her campaign provided emailed copies of the signed release forms, which did not mention McGrath by name.
Her campaign insists that all the miners were informed that they were being filmed for an ad. McGrath staffers wearing campaign T-shirts were on the bus and the miners — including Robbins and Hall — signed up for McGrath gear, the campaign said.
McConnell's camp has pounced on the dispute, which fits into an early narrative Republicans have tried to pin on the Democratic challenger by dubbing her "Amy McGaffe."
McGrath's campaign said the miners' complaints shouldn't distract from what it sees as McConnell's "callous disregard" for the health of miners.
McGrath, a former Marine combat aviator, narrowly lost a U.S. House race to a Republican incumbent in Kentucky last year. The video announcement of her Senate campaign drew considerable fanfare as she set her sights on toppling McConnell — the nation's most powerful Republican in Congress. She quickly raised millions of dollars but soon stumbled on the question about Kavanaugh. She initially said she would have voted to confirm him to the high court but then changed her mind hours later.
Besides McGrath, other Democrats in the Kentucky Senate race include political newcomer Mike Broihier — who has a broad resume as a Marine officer, farmer and small-town newspaperman — as well as Steven Cox and Bennie Smith. Two prominent Democrats also are considering a Senate run — sports talk show host Matt Jones and longtime state Rep. Rocky Adkins, who finished second in this year's Democratic primary for governor.