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Rick Steelhammer: From moderate pragmatist to Moscow Mitch: If the T-shirt fits, wear it

U.S. Senate candidate Don Blankenship’s attempt to smear Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last year by dubbing him “Cocaine Mitch” was such a stretch that the Kentucky Republican was amused rather than angered.

In fact, he laughed all the way to the bank.

Blankenship’s organization based the “Cocaine Mitch” moniker on the fact that four years previously, a Netherlands-bound coal freighter owned by the large shipping company controlled by the family of McConnell’s wife had been found to contain about 90 pounds of cocaine while docked at a Colombian port.

Although McConnell’s slo-mo demeanor may suggest that his metabolism could benefit from an occasional jolt of something, Blankenship’s straw-grasping effort to portray him as leading a secret life as a drug lord was so funny to the majority leader that he had thousands of T-shirts made. The shirts were inscribed with the words “Cocaine Mitch Cartel Member” and sold to his supporters, generating $70,000 for his campaign.

But these days, McConnell has been assigned a set of nicknames and trending Twitter hashtags he’s not so happy with. They include Moscow Mitch, #MoscowMitchMcTreason and #MoscowMitchMcTraitor.

He was assigned the nicknames by folks who disapproved of his blocking two bills last week that sought to avoid foreign interference in U.S. elections. For McConnell, who is usually unfazed by his critics and enjoys collecting editorial cartoons portraying him in a negative light, it was too much.

In a lengthy floor speech, he pushed back at his critics, nearly all of them Democrats, for attempting to bully and intimidate him through use of the nicknames, which he described as an updated version of McCarthyism.

By the time Friday rolled around, a song titled “Moscow Mitch” by Ben Folds was getting a lot of airplay, and Democrats back in McConnell’s home state were selling a huge volume of T-shirts and bumper stickers emblazoned with the slogan “Say nyet to Moscow Mitch.”

Maybe during the Senate’s five-week vacation that begins this weekend, McConnell will figure out a way to draft an election security bill using wording that won’t offend his party’s leader.

But if Moscow Mitch momentum continues to build, the image of the long-tenured chin transplant candidate, up for reelection next year, may soon be accompanied by different wording on the shirts and stickers marketed by Kentucky Democrats.

Instead of just saying “nyet” to the senator, Kentuckians could be saying “do svidaniya.”

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.

Funerals for Saturday, November 16, 2019

Akers Sr., Virgil - 1:30 p.m., Belle Town Hall, Belle.

Barbour, Hazel - 1 p.m., John Wesley United Methodist Church, Lewisburg.

Carnessali, Eunice - 1 p.m., North Charleston Apostolic Church.

Coleman, Russell - 1 p.m., Coonskin Park, Charleston.

Dean, Beverly - 2 p.m., Greene-Robertson Funeral Home, Sutton.

Deem, Jeffery - 3 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.

Faulkes, Betty -  1 p.m., First Presbyterian Church of Charleston.

Greatshouse, Julie - 11 a.m., Eventide Cemetery, Spencer.

Hall, Joseph -  1 p.m., Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.

Harrah, Madeline - 2 p.m., Amick Cemetery, Comfort.

Hatfield, Ronnie - 6 p.m., Henson & Kitchen Mortuary, Huntington.

Hypes, Ida - 1 p.m., Bethel Church, Poe. 

Johnson, Betsy - 3 p.m., Emmons Church of God.

Jones Sr., Denver - 1 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Jones, William - 11 a.m., Fairlawn Baptist Church, Dunbar.

Marcum, Regina - Noon, Raynes Funeral Home, Buffalo.

Miller, Jack - 2 p.m., Gateway Christian Church, St. Albans.

Minton, Paul - 2 p.m., Cunningham Memorial Park, St. Albans. 

Rowsey, Virginia - 1 p.m., White Chapel Mausoleum, Barboursville.

Seacrist, Carl - 11 a.m., Bartlett - Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Sellards, Frances - 11 a.m., Akers-James Funeral Home, Logan.

Smith, Sterling - Noon, St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, St. Albans.