CHICAGO
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

GOP Senate Candidate Caught Overplaying Mike Ditka's Endorsement

In a single day, a longshot Republican Senate candidate got caught trumpeting an endorsement he didn't have, then landing the endorsement after all.

In a bizarre political mix-up, former Bears coach Mike Ditka denied having endorsed Patrick Hughes, the Hinsdale developer running for President Obama's former Senate seat, or agreeing to serve on his finance committee. But hours after the news was reported on the blog Team America and picked up by the widely-read Capitol Fax blog, the two men released a terse joint statement designed to smooth the damage.

"As of October 22nd, Mike Ditka is endorsing Patrick Hughes for U.S. Senate," the statement read. "We have no further comment on anything that has been discussed or reported in any media."

The Hughes campaign touted the endorsement of the prominent former coach on its web site at the beginning of October.

"I pledge all my support to Patrick Hughes and I will help him in any way I can," the erroneous announcement read. "Patrick Hughes stands for the same mainstream values that Mike Ditka stands for. Patrick Hughes knows who he is and what he believes. He knows that Washington is not the answer to all of our problems today."

The campaign, however, had jumped the gun and removed the announcement after Andy Martin, a perennial Republican candidate, and the conservative blog Illinois Review raised questions about the endorsement.

A statement from Ditka's lawyer to Team America made it clear that the Hughes campaign mistook the coach's enthusiasm for an official endorsement.

"Pat spoke at the restaurant last week and presented small government and Reaganomic points of view," Ditka said in a statement clarifying his position. "He asked if I would endorse his candidacy and I indicated I supported his views. We were never given the opportunity to agree to a press release which claimed I officially endorsed his candidacy."

Ditka went on to say that while he may have endorsed some concepts discussed at a gathering at his restaurant, he never "publicly officially endorsed [Hughes] and certainly did not agree to serve on his finance committee."

The latest statement, the one released by both men Thursday afternoon, confirmed that Ditka will not in fact serve on Hughes' finance team.

"Due to Coach Ditka's numerous business and personal commitments, he will not be serving on Patrick Hughes' finance committee," the statement read.

Hughes, who entered the race in August, is far behind frontrunner U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk in fundraising. The Hinsdale developer reported raising $380,000 compared with Kirk's $2.3 million.

The notion that Ditka had endorsed Hughes over Kirk had helped buttress the perception that conservative Republicans are reluctant to support the self-described moderate North Shore congressman.