Kentucky Tea Party conservatives are hoping to get outside help to unseat five-term Sen. Mitch McConnell now that a Republican has stepped up to challenge the Senate minority leader.
Businessman Matt Bevin is expected to announce Wednesday that he will challenge Mitchell in a Republican primary next year, a move that will unleash a torrent of expensive, negative attack ads from both sides.
McConnell, who for decades has served as the de facto head of the state GOP, will have the clear in-state advantage for campaign financing and resources needed to reach voters via media advertisements, phone-banking, sign placement and door knocks. He has already amassed a growing war chest of $12 million.
“Good luck finding a human being in the state of Kentucky who will give you money over Mitch McConnell,” quipped one state GOP operative.
But Bevin will not depend solely on Kentuckians. Instead, he plans to follow in the footsteps of Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, who won a GOP Senate primary in Kentucky in 2009 despite McConnell’s personal and financial support for his opponent, Trey Grayson. Paul raised millions of dollars before the primary, much of it from groups based outside Kentucky as well as from web-based “money bombs” that drew record-breaking donations from across the country.
“Those who say the money won’t follow into the race are either misinformed or they don’t want to admit it,” said Scott Hofstra, spokesperson for the United Kentucky Tea Party, a coalition of state Tea Party groups that plans to formally announce its backing of Bevin on Wednesday.
“We’ve already seen quite a bit of interest from outside groups who want to bring money into the state.”
Bevin plans to immediately embark on a three-day tour to Frankfort, Newport and Louisville.
A wealthy businessman, Belvin is expected to initially use his own money to get his campaign off the ground.
Financing is just one of his challenges, however.
While McConnell has suffered from a history of lackluster approval ratings at home, Bevin, who moved to Kentucky as an adult, has virtually no name recognition in the state.
In a You Tube video aimed at business leaders, Bevin describes an upbringing near frigid Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, in a home with no central heat, raised by a mother who told him to “make sure that at the end of every day you give back more than you take.”
McConnell has drawn criticism from state conservatives for hewing to the center on important fiscal issues including the debt ceiling deal he helped facilitate in 2011.
“Matt Bevin is pushing very hard for a balanced budget,” Hofstra said. “He doesn’t believe we should expand the debt limit again until we get a balanced budget. He is, in so many cases, much more conservative and fiscally responsible than Mitch McConnell.”
McConnell’s campaign team is already throwing jabs at Bevin, pointing out his company’s history of unpaid taxes. A Bevin spokesperson told the Washington Examiner the Bevin took over the troubled company in 2011, keeping it afloat, saving jobs and paying the taxes.
“It’s not true,” Bevin spokesperson Sarah Durand said. “It’s mudslinging.”
Political experts believe McConnell will be much more difficult for Bevin than Grayson was for Paul in the 2009 primary simply because the GOP voters are familiar with McConnell and fear if he’s defeated, Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, the state secretary, will stand a better chance of winning in November.
McConnell and Bevin would face off in a closed GOP primary in May 2014. Paul is backing McConnell.
“From a logical standpoint,” one state Tea Party activist told the Examiner, “I’d love to see a true conservative take McConnell out, but I just don’t think it’s going to happen. So we’ve got to take what we can take. We are going to go with the most conservative person who can win. And that’s Mitch McConnell.”