Joee Conroy was driving to his local poll at Bellarmine University to vote when he noticed a throng of college-age men and women gathered around chanting “Mitch! Mitch! Mitch!”
So he gave them a thumbs down. They saw him and erupted in boos; and that was only the beginning of Conroy’s day. Minutes later, he would serve up his now-famous thumbs down while the press corps snapped photographs of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the eventual victor in yesterday’s senatorial election.
The photo got picked up by Huffington Post under a headline reading “These May be the Funniest Photos from Election Day 2014,” as well as by USA Today, MSNBC, ABC News, The Washington Post, and others; a Google News search this morning turned up dozens of results. McConnell’s Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, even tweeted a manipulated version of the photo, which she later deleted.
The original photo, shot by Aaron P. Bernstein, a stringer for Getty Images, is still making the rounds today in the world of social media, with many people posting it and saying, “Who is this guy?” That guy is Joee Conroy, and this is his story.
“I get into my ballot and it’s huge,” said Conroy, a local musician who plays in the band Ut Gret. “There are, like, 25 judges on there. I’m about 10 minutes into it and I hear all this commotion. I look up, and there’s like 100 cameras pointing at me.”
He had a “What the hell?” moment, and then realized McConnell was just two voting booths away. Conroy said he gave no thought to what happened next.
“It was just an instantaneous kind of, ‘Awww man,'” he said. “I just did what comes naturally. The guy physically repulses me.”
And then the unexpected happened. While Conroy spent a long amount of time plowing through all the entries on this year’s ballot, he realized McConnell stepped in, was there for maybe a few seconds, and then left.
“The guy took like two seconds, and I thought, ‘He didn’t even vote for anybody,'” Conroy said. He immediately realized it was apparently a photo opp set up for the benefit of the press.
“I thought, ‘If that’s the case, I’m really glad I stole it from him,'” Conroy said.
But Conroy was still steamed: “I know at least three of these judges personally. For him not to vote for any judges? I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s really bizarre.’ He didn’t even care about anybody else. Surely he had to have known some of these judges.”
Later that morning, Conroy heard from a friend who asked him if he’d voted at the same time and place as McConnell. That’s when he first learned the photo had gone viral. The rest happened on its own. Conroy has no regrets.
“It was just a spontaneous reaction,” he said. “It was, ‘What’s this? Awww, it’s Mitch.’ It wasn’t a planned thing. I was there before he got there and I was there long after he left. My thought at time was if it helps Alison win, go for it. Of course, she didn’t. It would have been totally worth it if had gotten her to victory.”