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Kentucky sports radio host plans book-length rebuke of Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, shown in early August. (Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press)

Matt Jones, a prominent liberal sports radio host from Kentucky who has flirted with a Senate run, is writing a book about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, he said in an interview this week.

The book, planned as a political rebuke of the second most powerful Republican in the country, will be published by Simon & Schuster and is expected to be released next summer ahead of the 2020 election.

Jones is a Kentucky native and hosts a popular syndicated radio show. He also has hosted a television talk show that covers sports and politics in the state and been a frequent critic of McConnell for years.

The book — with the working title “Mitch, Please!” — will be part travelogue and part history of the commonwealth. Jones, along with co-author Chris Tomlin, plans to travel to each of Kentucky’s 120 counties to make his case: McConnell has had a negative impact on the state he has represented for more than three decades.

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In Harlan County, for instance, Jones said he would talk to coal miners, some of whom he said have struggled without black lung benefits and others who have lost their jobs. And in Marshall County, he plans to explore both a 2018 school shooting that left two dead and 18 injured and McConnell’s resistance to gun control legislation. Jones said he also would delve into opioid abuse in the state.

“Societal changes have led to massive changes in Kentucky’s two biggest economic engines — tobacco and coal,” Jones said. “Not only was Mitch McConnell not able to stop that, but he did little to nothing to replace them while also being maybe the most powerful legislator in the world.”

Such critiques from Jones are not new, nor are pointed responses from McConnell’s camp. Kevin Golden, McConnell’s campaign manager, said in a statement Thursday, “Many people are familiar with Matt’s book report from its original title when they called it Elizabeth Warren’s stump speech.”

The book will take on more lighthearted topics, too.

“We’ve heard from people who have been cut off in traffic by Mitch’s people,” Jones said. He added, “Really, the book is about trying to figure what this man’s impact on people across the state has been in a very real way while he’s amassed incredible power in Washington. It’s also a love story to my state.”

Jones, 40, grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in Eastern Kentucky and attended Transylvania University and then Duke law school, graduating in 2003. He clerked for three federal judges, including one on the District of Columbia Circuit court, and then worked in private practice.

He started a popular blog called Kentucky Sports Radio in 2005; five years later, he left the legal profession to run his website full time and host a radio show. Both pursuits began as strictly sports endeavors, focused mainly on the University of Kentucky. Jones often chided McConnell for refusing to declare his allegiance between Kentucky and rival Louisville. (McConnell attended both schools.)

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But the show soon evolved into something more when Jones, who describes himself as a “Southern progressive populist,” began opining on politics. In 2014, when McConnell ran against Democrat Alison Grimes, Jones got agreements from both candidates to come on his show. The interview with McConnell was a tense affair that made national news. (Jones also created “Hey, Kentucky!” a topical debate and interview show that focuses on politics as well as sports, although he took a leave from that show amid speculation about his political future.)

In 2015, Jones was recruited to run for Congress, potentially taking on Republican Andy Barr in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional District. He traveled to Washington to meet with party leaders but grew disillusioned with the political process and decided afterward not to run.

“One congressperson addressed the group and literally said that what matters in the election isn’t your views but how much money you raise,” Jones said. “I don’t think the national Democratic Party cares about average Kentuckians, either."

Jones said he remained undecided on jumping into the Senate race and uncertain about his own political ambitions; Democrat Amy McGrath launched a prominent bid last month.

“I’m going to decide shortly,” Jones said. “When Amy McGrath is backed by the Democratic establishment, you’re looking at trying to take down two establishments, and that’s harder.” (Last year, Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff and campaign manager, told Politico that Jones’s campaign talk was a “vanity project” and that he had “mistaken the cheers for Big Blue Nation as cheers for Matt Jones.”)

A few months ago, Jones said, he was approached about a book project by Simon & Schuster and thought of how he might write about Kentucky in a way that would resonate nationally. For years, his radio program has traveled around the state to do live shows, and Jones decided that offered a template for the book, even though sports wouldn’t be the theme.

“Our politicians matter more to the country than our sports teams,” he said.

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