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Mitch McConnell ad uses Duke celebration photos

By Sam Youngman
Lexington Herald-Leader

Big Blue Nation called a flagrant foul on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Tuesday.

Days before the Kentucky Wildcats play the Louisville Cardinals in the NCAA basketball tournament, McConnell released an online video that showed brief footage of the Duke Blue Devils winning the national championship in 2010.

The faux pas was first noticed by Joe Sonka, the news editor for LEO Weekly in Louisville, and it spread quickly among University of Kentucky fans, who have no trouble distinguishing the shades of blue worn by Kentucky and Duke.

The ad, titled "Rebuild," includes a number of scenes of Kentucky at its best as audio plays from a speech McConnell gave to a conservative group earlier this year.

"We will debate our ideas openly. We will vote without fear. And we will govern with the understanding that the future of this country depends on our success," McConnell says in the ad. "We will work to restore opportunity and economic mobility for the middle class. We'll renew our promise to the next generation of Americans that their future is defined by the person they can become rather than the conditions they're born into. And if we win the majority in November, I will work every day to change that. This is our time to get it right."

As McConnell concludes, a picture of two Duke players hugging in celebration is among several images that flash on the screen.

Allison Moore, McConnell's spokeswoman, blamed the mistake on a vendor.

"Obviously we were horrified by the error and quickly changed it," she said.

The replacement video, however, created new problems for McConnell's campaign.

It contained footage of UK standout Julius Randle, which the campaign later acknowledged might possibly run afoul of NCAA and university rules that govern the use of players' images for commercial purposes. (The original video and the replacement video also showed an image of U of L's Wayne Blackshear dunking the ball during a game.)

After being made aware of the potential problems with its replacement video, the campaign decided to pull the YouTube video from public view, said Jesse Benton, McConnell's campaign manager.

"Our campaign used one-second clips of UK and U of L players to honor our commonwealth's basketball dominance in a Web-only video, which was never for broadcast," Benton said Tuesday afternoon. "We figured we had shot ourselves in the foot enough for one day, so we took the video down as soon as any fair-use questions popped up to avoid any further misunderstandings."

Later Tuesday night, Moore said in a lengthy statement that the campaign had contacted both schools, and that "the matter has been resolved."

Moore, a UK graduate, said that neither the schools nor the players were "aware of any image used in this video, and actions have been taken with the vendor to ensure this never happens again."

"It was our intention to honor our great Kentucky basketball traditions," Moore said. "Our campaign apologizes for any inconvenience this may have caused."

UK Athletics issued its own statement Tuesday night that said university officials had "consulted with the NCAA" regarding the footage of Randle used in McConnell's video.

"Although the use of the student-athlete's image in the advertisement is not permissible, because it was done without the knowledge or permission of the university or the student-athlete, it is not an NCAA violation," the statement said. "The University of Kentucky has sent a cease and desist letter and will continue to take appropriate measures to ensure improper usage of a student-athlete's name, image or likeness is prevented."

Likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes sought to seize on the mistake Tuesday morning, posting on Twitter: "KY, as your next Senator, I promise to never glorify a Duke championship in a campaign ad like @TeamMitch."

However, Grimes had Kentucky losing to Wichita State in her tournament bracket, picking Florida to beat Louisville in the final game.

As most Kentuckians know all too well, the storied rivalry between the Wildcats and the Blue Devils hit its zenith — or nadir — on March 28, 1992, when Duke player Christian Laettner sank a game-winning shot as the clock expired on what is widely considered to be the greatest college game ever played.

The Cats exacted some measure of revenge in 1998, beating Duke in the South Regional finals en route to a seventh national championship.

Still, more than two decades after Laettner took a full-court pass from teammate Grant Hill and sealed the fate of Kentucky's "Unforgettables" over the outstretched hands of UK's John Pelphrey, Duke remains hated and Laettner unforgiven.

T-shirts that declare "I still hate Laettner" are often worn in Rupp Arena to this day.

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