A blast from a now-unimaginable past

After a failed attempt to run for the House of Representatives (he was tossed from the ballot for failing residency requirements), Mitch McConnell’s first real campaign was for judge-executive of Jefferson County, containing (at the time) Louisville and its suburbs. It was 1977, and he was 35. The images collected here offer a portal into a lost political world: a faraway, enchanted realm in which Mitch McConnell sought elected office as a moderate man of the people. If it were possible to travel back in time and preserve this Mitch McConnell in amber and reanimate him intact, as the original imagineers of Jurassic Park did, today’s Republican Party might have become something quite dramatically different than the cynical manufactory of obstruction and scorched earth that it’s morphed into on the watch of the real-world McConnell.

Young McConnell, seen here campaigning outside a manufacturing plant, pitched himself as belonging to the moderate wing of the GOP, and ran as strongly pro-labor. He even won the endorsement of the local AFL-CIO council, in part because he promised to support collective bargaining rights for public employees. (Once elected, he reneged on that promise.)
Election night.
The McConnell campaign’s war room, with a prominently featured map of Jefferson County. A 1977 New York Times story on the race notes: “Although Louisville and Jefferson County have been the scene of intermittent racial violence over court‐ordered busing to achieve integration, most candidates have avoided the issue as too explosive to help anyone.” As Alec MacGillis reports in his 2014 biography of McConnell, The Cynic, McConnell’s campaign did cut an anti-busing ad, but decided not to run it, feeling that Hollenbach had already done enough damage to himself with his support for integration.
Election Day finds McConnell campaigning outside a polling place—a dubiously legal practice.
McConnell and his first wife, Sherrill Redmon. McConnell’s ads and campaign appearances frequently featured his family (they had two daughters). Coincidentally, his opponent was going through a well-publicized divorce at the time.
McConnell again greets workers, this time at the South Central Bell Telephone Company.
Mather catches McConnell outside another workplace, though not greeting any workers. McConnell is exiting the headquarters of the Brown Williamson Tobacco Company, with whom he’d enjoy a relationship of mutual support that lasted until the Louisville company merged with R.J. Reynolds in 2004.
McConnell and his wife would be divorced by the time he ran for reelection. Sherrill Redmon went on, improbably, to become the director of the Sophia Smith collection of Women’s History at Smith College, where she collaborated with Gloria Steinem on the Voices of Feminism Oral History Project. He does not bring her up often.