2020 Election

Govs. DeWine, Hogan Rebuke McConnell Challenger for Using Their Images in Attack Ad

DeWine asks McGrath campaign to remove him from ad 'immediately'

Democratic Senate candidate Amy McGrath / Getty Images

Republican governors Mike DeWine (Ohio) and Larry Hogan (Md.) rebuked Senate hopeful Amy McGrath after the Kentucky Democrat used their images in an ad attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).

McGrath released a campaign ad Saturday commending DeWine and Hogan for their "leadership" during the coronavirus pandemic. The praise was contrasted with an attack on McConnell, who, McGrath said, "sees it differently. … For Sen. McConnell, it's always about politics." In response, DeWine asked McGrath to remove his image from the ad, calling McConnell a "friend" who is "focused" on combating coronavirus.

"Ohioans are focused exclusively on getting through COVID-19 and getting our people back to work, and I'm proud to work with partners at the local and federal level to get it done," DeWine said in a Saturday statement. "It's for that reason that I'm particularly disappointed with an attack ad by Amy McGrath that uses my image against my friend, Mitch McConnell."

"Mitch and I have worked together for a long time and I know that he is focused, as I am, on the crisis and I appreciate his leadership," the governor continued. "I ask for the McGrath campaign to remove my image from her advertising immediately."

McGrath defended her ad following DeWine's response. She accused the Republican of rejecting "sincere appreciation from a Democrat" and demonstrating "how far we have strayed from our ideals as a nation." Just an hour later, however, Hogan also criticized the ad, calling McGrath's politicization of the virus "not constructive."

"As I've said repeatedly, this is not the time for partisan politics or finger pointing," Hogan said in a Saturday tweet. "I appreciate the praise, but campaign ads politicizing the coronavirus response are not constructive towards the urgent goal of bringing everyone together to fight our common enemy: the virus."

McGrath has not directly addressed Hogan's criticism and did not respond to a request for comment.

This is not the first time a McGrath ad attacking McConnell has landed the Kentucky Democrat in hot water. She released an ad in August that depicted a group of coal miners traveling to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about black lung disease, saying McConnell neglected the group. Two of the miners who appeared in the ad, Randy Robbins and Albrow Hall, said they were led to believe the footage would appear in a Black Lung Association documentary and did not consent to the use of their images in the ad. They also said they had no issue with McConnell, calling their trip to D.C. a "success" and criticizing McGrath for using them as "political pawns."

"Randy and Albrow are not partisan political activists for either party, however, they are personally offended at seeing their images being used in a political attack ad that does not reflect their personal feelings or beliefs," the miners' lawyer said in a cease and desist letter sent to McGrath's campaign. "It is simply wrong for the McGrath Campaign to use individual miners suffering from black lung disease as political pawns without their permission or consent."

"Randy and Albrow felt that the trip was a success," the letter states. "They deeply appreciated the warm receptions they received from a number of elected representatives who took the time to meet with the group, including Senator Mitch McConnell." 

While the McGrath campaign said the miners were "fully informed that they were being filmed for an ad," an Associated Press report said the release forms signed by the miners "did not mention McGrath by name." The campaign went on to blur out Robbins and Hall in a revised ad.

McGrath is one of several Democrats seeking the party's nomination to challenge McConnell in November. She announced her candidacy in July 2019 after losing by 3 points to Rep. Andy Barr (R.) in Kentucky's Sixth Congressional District the year before. Just days after launching her campaign, McGrath said she "probably" would have voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court before retracting the position hours later. Washington Post reporter and CNN political analyst Rachael Bade said that the Kentucky Democrat "probably can't recover from this" following her flip-flop. Kentucky Democratic representative John Yarmuth called the mistake "pretty significant."