Hughes stated in a press release a few weeks ago that:
Former Chicago Bears Football coach and Chicago sports legend Mike Ditka has endorsed the candidacy of Patrick Hughes for the U.S. Senate in the upcoming February 2 Republican Primary.
Speaking to a gathering of Hughes supporters at Ditka’s Restaurant last night, Da Coach said, “I pledge all my support to Patrick Hughes and I will help him in any way I can. Patrick Hughes stands for the same mainstream values that Mike Ditka stands for. Patrick Hughes knows who he is and what he believes. He knows that Washington is not the answer to all of our problems today.”
Said Hughes, “I am truly humbled tonight by the strong expression of support from Coach Ditka. My great admiration for him is not only based on his success on the football field and as a business man, but also because of his success in life as he has given so much of his time and energy to help the less fortunate among us in Chicagoland.”
Ditka’s endorsement of Hughes came just days after a declaration of neutrality in the Illinois GOP Senate race by RNC Chairman Michael Steele. ***
The story was widely carried by AP and other MSM sources and noted on Capitol Fax Blog. Hughes also bragged about Ditka agreeing to be on his finance committee. Hughes also, of course, touted all of this on his own website.
As recently as Monday of this week (10/19), Hughes was still crowing about the Ditka endorsement, with a Twitter/Facebook post noting that the story had been picked up by Huffington Post.
Um, timeout, calls Da Coach.
Mike Ditka's representatives are now denying that the revered former NFL player and coach ever made any endorsement and, what's more, have clearly stated that Hughes does NOT have Ditka's endorsement.
As we told you earlier (although we were admittedly skeptical), and has been discussed in detail over on conservative blog Illinois Review, fellow U.S. Senate candidate Andy Martin was the first to call out Hughes on this issue some days ago. Martin contacted Ken Valdiserri, Executive Director of the Gridiron Greats organization, to determine whether or not the report of Ditka's endorsement was true. Martin reported on his blog back on October 15th that Valdiserri denied that the endorsement had issued in a series of e-mails, which Martin posted on his blog.
I personally spoke with Mr. Valdiserri earlier this week and he confirmed the e-mails to Martin, and referred me to Coach Ditka's attorney for further information. Before he did, however, he told me that the Hughes campaign never gave Ditka a chance to review the press release before it was sent out, and that while Ditka endorsed some of Hughes' political views, "He [Ditka] does not recall officially endorsing Hughes or agreeing to be part of his finance committee" at the Hughes event and, moreover, it is clear that "he is not officially endorsing Pat Hughes." Valdiserri criticized Hughes for not following "proper protocol" and taking inappropriate liberties with Ditka's positive comments at the dinner, and publicizing those as an official endorsement.
Valdiserri put out a press release last week that clearly stated that Hughes was wrong and did not have Ditka's endorsement. Martin also cited the press release on his blog, which was where I first saw it.
After I spoke with Mr. Valdirserri's, at his invitation, I then contacted Mike Ditka's attorney, Steve Mandell, who referred me to the press release, which I obtained directly from Mr. Valdiserri yesterday. The release (dated 10/15/09) stated:
“Pat spoke at the restaurant last week and presented small government and Reaganomic points of view,” said Ditka. He asked if I would endorse his candidacy and I indicated I supported his views”. “We were never given the opportunity to agree to a press release which claimed I ‘officially endorsed his candidacy,” said Ditka, The release was put out the following day by Hughes’ PR firm.
“I have long supported civil rights and would never support advocacy for the exclusion of African Americans, or any race, color or religion,” said Ditka. “All you need to do is come to my restaurant and see the diversity of our employees, customers and friends.
“These claims and rhetoric are obviously ‘politically motivated and while I may have endorsed some concepts discussed to his gathering at the restaurant, I never ‘publicly officially endorsed him and certainly did not agree to serve on his finance committee,”
Additional background for all of this is that Martin previously criticized Hughes when one of Hughes' operatives wrote a letter suggesting that senate candidates Eric Wallace and John Arrington (who happen to be only the two African-American GOP candidates) should drop out of the race to clear the field for Hughes. Martin threatened a picket of Ditka's restaurant where the Hughes event had been held, hence the denial of supporting racism that was sandwiched in the middle of the Ditka press release.
Got all that? Good. So far, however, no official retraction and apology appear to have issued from the Hughes campaign (despite the fact that Andy Martin called him out on this days ago). And while one might speculate that the initial press release may have been due to overzealousness on the part of the Hughes campaign, it doesn't explain why Hughes is still touting the "endorsement" even in light of Valdiserri's statements (as heavily publicized by Martin, and now confirmed by Team America) that no official endorsement was actually authorized by Ditka. Maybe the message from Mr. Valdiserri somehow didn't penetrate...?
As I have noted before, I went to law school with Pat Hughes, studied with him for hours on end back in school, and have considered him a friend. He's smart, a man of strong beliefs, and generally a good guy. But it seems Pat really stepped in this one. If you, as an unknown candidate, go around proclaiming a coveted high-profile endorsement (not to mention financial support) by someone like Ditka (who is practically worshipped by many in Chicago) to gain much-needed legitimacy and name recognition, you better make darn sure you have his permission and unreserved support. And fess up quickly if you made a mistake. Of course, the window for that has already passed.
Newbee candidates rarely survive major mistakes like this one, especially at the level of a U.S. Senate campaign.
UPDATED 1:20 p.m.: The Hill has a detailed article up. In it, Hughes says anyone who disputes his version of the 'endorsement' at the event is not telling the truth:
“I would be speculating as to what their intentions are, but clearly they’re succumbing to some pressure,” Hughes said in an interview. “Any statement made that the coach did not officially or actually endorse me, I believe, is not true. I was endorsed, and that’s why I said I was.”
Um, this is DA COACH we're talking about, Pat.
Pat doesn’t seem to realize that you lose this fight as soon as you decide to lace up the gloves with Ditka. Regardless of who said what at that event, the only way out of this for Hughes was to meekly apologize for misunderstanding the Coach and slink away, hoping no one noticed. Hughes was too proud to do that, so he’s going to have to deal with the fallout.
UPDATED x2 1:55 p.m.: Looks like Hughes and Camp Ditka are trying to lock this thing down before it gets completely out of control.
MIKE DITKA ORGANIZATION AND PATRICK HUGHES FOR U.S. SENATE
The campaign of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Hughes has issued the following official statement with approval of the Mike Ditka organization:
“As of October 22nd, Mike Ditka is endorsing Patrick Hughes for U.S. Senate. This statement is being issued jointly by Mike Ditka’s organization and the U.S. Senate campaign of Patrick Hughes. We have no further comment on anything that has been discussed or reported in any media.”
Due to Coach Ditka’s numerous business and personal commitments, he will not be serving on Patrick Hughes’ finance committee.
Patrick Hughes is a successful real estate developer, husband, and father, resides with his wife, Susan, and their three children in Hinsdale.
So, whatever you do, don't ask either side any questions about it.
UPDATED x3 4:35 p.m.: Huffington Post seems both amused and confused by the Hughes/Ditka kerfuffle.