LEBURN, Ky. — Republican Senate challenger Matt Bevin's credibility was damaged by revelations he praised the 2008 federal bank bailout years before turning it into a campaign issue, railing against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for voting for it, Sen. Rand Paul said Monday.
Paul, who gained national prominence as the favorite of tea party groups that Bevin has courted with some success, wouldn't say how much the contradiction had hurt Bevin in his upset bid against McConnell in the May 20 GOP primary.
Meanwhile, McConnell drew the wrath of some Kentucky tea party groups for his role in persuading some of his GOP colleagues to accept legislation lifting the nation's borrowing authority with no concessions from President Barack Obama.
One group, the United Kentucky Tea Party, which endorsed Bevin last year, called on the five-term senator to drop out of the Senate primary. The group predicted McConnell would likely lose the fall election to the Democratic front-runner, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
"Senator McConnell's recent vote with [Democratic Senate leader] Harry Reid to hand President Obama a blank check for the next year has further degraded his support in Kentucky," the tea party group said Monday.
Paul, who is considering a run for the presidency in 2016, long ago endorsed McConnell's bid for a sixth term this year.
Despite the endorsement, Paul last year called Bevin a "good, honest, Christian man." But on Monday, Paul criticized the Louisville businessman for being inconsistent on the $700 billion federal bank bailout, known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.
"I think it hurts any individual if it appears as if their responses to issues aren't consistent," Paul told reporters during a stop in eastern Kentucky with McConnell. "So the fact that at one point he said he was for TARP but now he's against TARP, it does hurt credibility."
Bevin was president of an investment firm called Veracity Funds. Bevin signed an October 2008 report to investors that praised TARP. The report said TARP should not be called a bailout.
As a candidate, Bevin has often criticized the TARP bailout and McConnell's role in backing it during the final months of President George W. Bush's administration.
Paul predicted Monday that McConnell will win the GOP nomination, and said his backing of the five-term incumbent is "unqualified."
"I think he's been a very conservative leader for Kentucky," Paul said.
Bevin's campaign did not respond to phone calls and an email seeking comment Monday to Paul's remarks.
Bevin's campaign has said he always opposed the bank bailout. Bevin campaign spokeswoman Rachel Semmel has said a different Veracity officer wrote the investor reports in 2008. She said Bevin's signatures "were a formality that were not intended to be an endorsement of the opinions of others."
Bevin's campaign took aim again at McConnell's handling of the debt ceiling debate.
"The most senior Republican in the Senate fought conservatives, blamed the House, then patted himself on the back," Bevin's campaign said in a statement Monday. "There is no clearer picture of failed leadership in Washington than Mitch McConnell."
McConnell, a fierce critic of Obama's health care law and coal-related regulations, defended his conservative credentials Monday during an eastern Kentucky stop with Paul.
I don't think there's any particular reason for conservatives to be upset about my performance," McConnell said.
While Republicans squabbled, Grimes appealed to rural Kentucky voters Monday while campaigning with Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
Grimes touted trade policies that would boost farm exports, easing federal permits for new grain-loading facilities along major rivers and expanding a federal farm loan program for farmers unable to get traditional commercial bank loans.