Updated: June 6, 2014 at 1:03 pm
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Campaign photos showing a Greek power plant and a Ukrainian model posing as a coal miner have raised questions about the authenticity of the candidates' pitches to voters in Kentucky's hard-hitting Senate race.
Accusations of misusing stock photos are flying between the campaigns of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's Democratic secretary of state. The sensitive issues of coal and gun rights are at the center of the dispute.
Grimes is challenging McConnell in his bid for a sixth term in November.
Republicans tried to score points by pointing out that Grimes' campaign used a Ukrainian male model posing as an ashen-faced coal miner in an early newspaper ad. Grimes' campaign blamed its design firm and said the photo was replaced before the ad ran in Kentucky's coal country.
McConnell's campaign said the miscue went much deeper, trying to put Grimes on the defensive over President Barack Obama's energy policy, which has mushroomed into a big issue in a major coal-producing state.
McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said initial use of the model was "a perfect symbol of her inauthentic support for Kentucky coal." Obama's new plan to curb power plant pollution has become a flashpoint in recent days.
Democrats accused McConnell's campaign of using European photos to promote his support for coal and gun rights in Facebook posts. When home in Kentucky, McConnell frequently accuses Obama of trying to steer U.S. policies closer to those in liberal European countries.
A McConnell Facebook post earlier this year showed the image of a Greek power plant as part of the Republican senator's criticism of Obama's coal policy, Democrats said. They said McConnell's campaign used European stock photos in Facebook posts promoting his support of gun rights, another important issue in Kentucky, where hunting is a cherished tradition.
"By the McConnell campaign's logic, his support for the Second Amendment is so fake, he has to rely on a hunter from Denmark and a gun from Slovenia to prove he is more than just a CPAC laugh line," said Preston Maddock, a Grimes campaign spokesman. "Evidently, Mitch McConnell's team would rather drum up a fake scandal about an ad that did not run than admit their mistake and talk about the issues important to Kentuckians."
It was a reference to McConnell walking onstage at the Conservative Political Action Conference holding a rifle earlier this year.
McConnell's campaign said that Grimes' blunder was more egregious, coming as part of a major ad campaign in which she has tried to distance herself from Obama by portraying herself as an independent voice for coal interests.
"If Alison Lundergan Grimes thinks that sorting through Facebook will cover up her inability to tell the difference between a Kentucky coal miner and a European male model, then she's in for a long election," Moore said.