FRANKFORT — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jack Conway reversed himself Monday and apologized for using profanity in his Fancy Farm picnic speech during the weekend.
At the picnic, sponsored by St. Jerome Church in Graves County, Conway said he had a tough hide and was "one tough son of a bitch."
Conway's chief Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, called for an apology on Sunday, but Conway's campaign manager, Mark Riddle, told the Herald-Leader there would be no apologies.
Conway, the state's attorney general, changed course Monday afternoon.
"I apologize to picnic organizers, parishioners and guests that I got caught up in the fiery rhetoric that is a trademark of Fancy Farm and made a remark in reference to myself that I should not have," Conway said in a statement. "When someone attacks my family with statements that are simply untrue, I am passionate in their defense and fight back, just as I am passionate and fight every day for issues that are important to Kentucky families."
Riddle declined to elaborate on Conway's statement Monday, but noted in an interview Sunday that Mongiardo had accused Conway of being with "the silver spoon crowd."
Mongiardo's campaign consultant, Kim Geveden, said Mongiardo never attacked Conway's family.
"It's unfortunate that under the political pressure of Fancy Farm, Jack Conway lost control and used poor judgment by shouting profanities at a church picnic with church leaders, families and children present," Geveden said. "It is further unfortunate that it took two days and a political uproar before Jack Conway finally made the decision to apologize."
Picnic organizers and some people in the crowd said Conway's language was inappropriate.
The Rev. Darrell Venters, in his first year as pastor of the Catholic church, said he understood the context of Conway's comment, but "I wished he had used a different word."
Venters said he will recommend that the picnic's non-partisan political committee urge future speakers to be cautious about their use of language.
Conway said his offending comment was actually a quote from former U.S. Sen. Wendell Ford of Owensboro. Geveden has challenged Conway's campaign to provide proof that Ford made the comment.
Ford could not be reached for comment Monday.
Democratic political consultant Danny Briscoe, who is not associated with any campaign for the seat that Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning is vacating, said Conway made a mistake at Fancy Farm.
"He had a bad day," Briscoe said. "First of all, it was out of character for Jack Conway to say something like that. He's not known as a tough guy.
"Jim Bunning or John McCain or even Wendell Ford could have pulled it off, but not Conway."
Briscoe also said Conway's remark probably will show up in campaign ads. Geveden would not say Monday whether Mongiardo has plans to use video of Conway's speech in future ads.
"The main thing for a candidate to understand about Fancy Farm is that you don't want to do any harm to yourself," Briscoe said.
He noted the damage 1998 Democratic nominee Scotty Baesler did to his campaign when he gave an animated, emotional speech at Fancy Farm against Bunning.
Republicans produced an ad from the speech that made Baesler, who was usually mild-mannered, look similar to an enraged Adolf Hitler.
Other political watchers dismissed the controversy over Conway's Fancy Farm speech as "probably much ado about nothing."
"Given what we hear today on our TV sets, see at the movies and read in our novels, Conway's words were not that much," said University of Kentucky political science professor Donald Gross.
"One can draw the distinction that it was at a church picnic, but I still think it was mild and I don't think people will be making a decision on the U.S. Senate race based on those words."
What Conway's speech and its aftermath did show, Gross said, is that "both candidates realize this is going to be an extremely hard-fought, tough race."
Four Democrats and three Republicans have expressed interest in replacing Bunning, who said last week he will not be seeking re-election to a third term in 2010.