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Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Identity theft is a big deal these days. But rarely are its victims’ nicknames appropriated, too. Which brings us to my friend Dave Saunders, who everybody knows as “Mudcat.”
He was 13 when he began demanding his friends call him that. That was 51 years ago, long before he was a thorn-in-the-side NFL sportswriter, or one of the Roanoke Valley’s top real estate agents, or a real estate developer, or one of this region’s most notorious (and self- described) former drunks.
Today “Mudcat” is a well-known brand in state and national political circles. Politicians, reporters, cable news hosts and Hollywood stars immediately understand the reference. To them it’s synonymous with shrewd, distracted, homespun, occasionally brilliant, sometimes a loose cannon — everything Dave Saunders is.
On Aug. 30, The Washington Post listed “Mudcat” as one of the 10 best nicknames in all of politics. Saunders was the only political operative who made the list. The others included “Slick Willie” and “Gov. Moonbeam.”
But now another guy is using it — Matthew “Mudcat” Arnold, a young Democratic whippersnapper from Mississippi. Arnold’s mom was still changing his diapers when the real Mudcat was earning his chops in politics.
In August, Arnold was hired as campaign manager for Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who’s running for that state’s governor in 2014. He has set up shop in the Washington, D.C., area. He told reporters to call him “Mudcat.”
This has left the real Mudcat more frustrated than an Amish electrician. When I talked to him last week, he sounded madder than a three-legged cat trying to bury turds on a frozen pond.
“What pisses me off is, I’ve got to deal with it,” the real Mudcat told me. “Now I’m getting calls for the Maryland governor’s race.”
Arnold is not too easy a character to get hold of. I could find no telephone listing for his company, MC Strategies (did he name that after Mudcat, too?). I sent an email to the Gansler campaign, and a message through the website LinkedIn and I tweeted him, too.
Finally he called me on my cellphone.
“Mudcat! Thanks for calling,” I said. “I’m writing a column about you.”
“Dan, I think you have me mixed up with another Mudcat,” he replied. “There’s another one in Southwest Virginia. His name is Dave Saunders.”
Which was more or less my point. Why borrow a well-established nickname from somebody else in the same business? It only causes confusion.
“There’s no mix-up,” I said. “I know the real Mudcat well. Now there’s two Mudcats in politics. I want to know why you stole his nickname.”
“I didn’t,” Arnold replied. “I earned it fair and square.”
“How?” I asked. And that’s when Matthew “Mudcat” Arnold started sounding squirrelly.
“Are you going to write about this?” he asked.
“Yes I am,” I said.
“I’m not eager for attention on this kind of thing,” he replied. “You’re really going to write about the nickname?”
“Yes,” I said. “Now, how old are you?” He said he had a plane to catch; he would have to call me back Monday.
He did. Since 2003, Arnold, 29, has worked in Democratic and liberal interest-group campaigns in Mississippi, Texas, Washington state, Rhode Island, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. In the 2012 campaign, he managed CREDO, a liberal super PAC that he said helped get five tea party Republicans voted out of Congress.
Saunders said he had a conversation a couple of years ago with Arnold when he first heard about “the other” Mudcat. Arnold told him he took the nickname because he liked the sound.
Monday, Arnold told me the nickname was first bestowed upon him by a campaign colleague in Rhode Island, who named him after the former arena football team, the Mississippi Mudcats.
He added that he’s heard of Saunders and respects him. “I’m sorry he’s aggravated at all. It’s not something I intended.”
Saunders sounded unmoved.
“This guy is nothing like a Mudcat. It’s a very redneck nickname. And this guy isn’t any kind of redneck.”
The real Mudcat said he consulted his political mentor and lawyer, Dick Cranwell, about the issue. Cranwell told him there was nothing he could do. Saunders hadn’t trademarked it.
“I said, ‘What if I go up there and kick his ass?’ And Dickie said, ‘ Well, if you do I’ll have to come up and get you out of jail.’ ” Now that sounds like a real Mudcat.
But taking some else’s nickname? That’s akin to a two-bit karaoke singer who starts ordering people to call him Elvis. It’s cheap, low rent, eye-rolling stuff.
Arnold might have been better off picking a moniker he could build into his own legend. Something distinctive — like Dogslobber or Squirrelly.
Or perhaps Poseur. At least that shoe may fit.
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