After weeks of criticism from a popular sports radio host, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called in to Kentucky Sports Radio on Wednesday to proclaim his love for Big Blue Nation.
McConnell surprised host Matt Jones by agreeing, with what Jones said was 10 minutes' notice, to give an on-air interview after being accused by Jones of failing to honor a commitment to appear on the show. McConnell's Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, did a lengthy in-studio interview with Jones on Sept. 25.
"Hey, Matt, I hear you've been talking about me, and I thought I ought to call in and speak for myself," McConnell said. He added: "I think your listeners need to know that I'm a UK fan. I actually went to UK, unlike my opponent."
McConnell, who went to law school at UK and did his undergraduate work at the University of Louisville, has long been identified primarily as a Cardinals fan, but on the show Wednesday, McConnell said he is a fan of both schools.
Never miss a local story.
"Let me just say something: It is OK, I know it's probably not acceptable to you as an Obama enthusiast, but it's OK to be for both Louisville and Kentucky," McConnell said, referring to Jones' support of Obama.
"I like them both," he said. "I know that's astonishing to hear, but not surprising if you're a graduate from both schools to like them both."
McConnell said he doesn't root for Louisville when the two schools play each other in their annual and bitter rivalry game.
"I don't pick between my two schools when they play each other, and I think that's not unusual," McConnell said. "It may be surprising to you but not unusual to people who went to both schools."
Asked to name his favorite Kentucky basketball player, McConnell said Dakari Johnson and the Harrison twins, before adding, "When you've got so many great players, it's hard to pick."
McConnell, locked in a close battle with Grimes to win his sixth term and possibly become U.S. Senate majority leader, said he has helped secure more than $150 million in funding for UK "over the years" and authored a resolution in the Senate honoring the Wildcats for winning the 2012 national basketball championship.
Jones and others have repeatedly given McConnell guff for not attending the White House ceremony honoring the championship Cats, but McConnell said on the show that he and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul were unable to attend the ceremony because it was on the same day as the Kentucky Oaks horse race at Churchill Downs.
"Coach Cal gave me a signed copy of a piece of the floor from New Orleans, which I proudly display in my office," McConnell said.
Jones pressed McConnell on a variety of issues, including raising the minimum wage, repealing "Obamacare," allowing same-sex marriage and global warming.
The senator stuck to his previous answers on all those issues while throwing in familiar criticisms of the Obama administration.
McConnell repeatedly declined to say whether he personally believes in global warming, instead replying, "I'm not a scientist."
When pressed on why he opposes same-sex marriage, McConnell declined to say anything other than, "I believe that marriage should be between one man and one woman."
Jones asked McConnell to name areas where he agreed with Obama, leading the senator to single out the White House ceremony for the Wildcats and air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
McConnell's decision to call in to the show came after days of criticism from Jones that McConnell was "scared" to appear on it and one day after the Grimes campaign issued a news release in which it accused the senator of "running scared" because he refused to do an interview with Jones.
However, the chances of McConnell agreeing to an in-studio interview with Jones decreased dramatically after Grimes' appearance on the show, during which co-host Ryan Lemond offered Grimes his McConnell impression and joked that the senator is married to former Attorney General Janet Reno instead of former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao.
Shortly after McConnell's interview Wednesday, Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst issued a statement accusing McConnell of showing "hostility to the people of Kentucky."
"His combative and hostile appearance on Kentucky Sports Radio only further solidified Kentuckians' view of him as a untrustworthy Washington insider, willing to play dirty tricks in an attempt to hold onto his personal power," Hurst said.