Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath's campaign is ignoring the objections of two coal miners afflicted with black lung and has returned to using their images in an ad blitz against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.).
The original ad, released in August, features a group of Kentucky coal miners traveling to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about black lung disease. Two of the miners, Randy Robbins and Albrow Hall, said they were unaware that the footage taken of them was for a political attack ad. They criticized McGrath for treating "miners suffering from black lung disease as political pawns without their permission."
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Following bipartisan criticism and threats of legal action from the miners, the McGrath campaign continued to run the ad but blurred out the faces of both Robbins and Hall. The ad was later taken off the air altogether. The original version of the ad, which prominently features Robbins and Hall, resurfaced on February 18 in the northwest Kentucky media market.
The McGrath campaign did not consult Robbins and Hall before re-airing the ad, according to the pair's attorneys. The McGrath campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
After initial publication of this article, the Washington Free Beacon received a letter from Gray Television, owner of WFIE in Evansville. According to station vice president Mike Jones, the ad aired due to "an unfortunate circumstance in human error" and was not authorized to run by the campaign. The Free Beacon had brought the broadcast to the attention of the McGrath campaign on Friday.
The McGrath ad accuses Senate Majority Leader McConnell of meeting with coal miners for "all of one minute" during their trip to Washington, D.C. However, Robbins and Hall labeled the meeting a "success" in a cease and desist letter sent to McGrath in September. They said they were thankful for the "warm receptions" McConnell and other elected officials gave them.
The miners also criticized McGrath for turning their nonpartisan effort to increase visibility on the issue of black lung disease into a political fight.
"Randy and Albrow are not 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 letter says. "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."
Fellow Kentucky Democrats criticized McGrath for exploiting the miners when the ad was first released. Her primary opponent Mike Broihier called the move "disqualifying." McGrath's decision to re-air the original ad is the latest misstep in the failed congressional candidate's bid to unseat McConnell.
McGrath attacked McConnell's record on coal following the ad's re-airing, calling the McConnell-backed Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019, which secured coal miner pensions, "total B.S." in a Thursday tweet. The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) praised the legislation following its passage in December and thanked McConnell for his "crucial" support that "saved the lives of thousands throughout America."
"Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's support was crucial to passing this legislation, and on behalf of America's retired coal miners I thank him for his efforts to ensure this became a reality," UMWA president Cecil Roberts said. "We will never forget it. Once this legislation is signed by the President, Congress will have saved lives of thousands throughout America."
After losing to Republican incumbent Rep. Andy Barr in Kentucky's Sixth Congressional District in 2018, McGrath announced her bid to unseat McConnell in July. Despite near-constant gaffes since her campaign's launch, McGrath was endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in February. The race is not expected to be competitive, with McConnell considered a strong favorite.
UPDATE Feb. 27, 10:30 A.M. This piece has been updated with additional information from the television station