Kentucky Tea Party activist are preparing to wage a primary war against Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, who they argue is trying to bully the party’s conservative base.
The pledge comes after The New York Times reported national Republicans are attempting to undercut an activist group that has endorsed McConnell’s primary opponent, Matt Bevin, in a fight one McConnell aide compared to a bar fight.
Senate Conservatives Fund has poured over $300,000 in attack ads targeting McConnell thus far.
In response, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is discouraging GOP campaigns and organizations from working with ad firms that cooperate with SCF.
“This article over the weekend simply steeled our resolve,” says United Kentucky Tea Party spokesman Scott Hofstra, who represents a roundtable of over a dozen groups in the state. “We are so convinced that we need to replace Mitch McConnell, and we are prepared for the fight.”
Questions remain if the Tea Party has the muscle to take on the GOP leader, who has amassed as many political favors in the Bluegrass as campaign dollars.
Sen. Rand Paul remains a steadfast supporter of McConnell’s and Bevin’s anemic fundraising totals last month did not bode well for the insurgent candidacy.
Hofstra admits they won’t be able to compete with McConnell’s financial haul, but confirmed with WFPL that state tea partiers are now coordinating and training activists with The Madison Project—which has also endorsed Bevin—to create a grassroots network.
Those plans include setting up get out the vote centers in Louisville, along with the Northern Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky areas.
“If McConnell and his boy wonders seek a bar room brawl, then they are in for the fight of their political careers,” says Tea Party activist John Kemper III, speaking on behalf of a new group dubbed Kentucky Republicans for Inclusive Primaries. “To Senator McConnell, Karl Rove and the NRSC we say ‘bring it on.’ We are growing in numbers each day and we are ready.”
But McConnell supporters appear eager to engage their Tea Party counterparts.
Those GOP operatives backing the senator point out McConnell built the state party’s infrastructure into what it is today, adding they plan to deliver Bevin and others a bruising primary contest.
“The modern Republican Party was built by Mitch McConnell, congressional district by congressional district, state Senate and state House. They know him at a precinct level,” says Riggs Lewis, a board member of the super PAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership. “To come in and say otherwise, which is what Matt Bevin and Senate Conservatives Fund want to say he’s out of touch. He is the Kentucky Republican Party. To sell something other than that is a con.”
“And at the end of this, they’re going to find out on election night what it is to go up against a true Kentucky conservative.”
Pro-McConnell critics argue SCF spends more time attacking incumbent Republicans than Democrats to fulfill their “purity for profit” fundraising model. In the end McConnell may have gained an edge given that Sen. Ted Cruz has said he will no longer raise money for the group against incumbents, which could help cut off a money stream for Bevin.
But State tea partiers remain hopeful that national activists will keep Kentucky’s GOP primary race on their radar and won’t be detoured by McConnell’s efforts to take out SCF.
“You’ll find that more and more of these folks like Sarah Palin are going to finally start seeing that Mitch McConnell is nothing more than a bully, and that they’re going to get involved just because of his attitude,” says Hofstra. “Everything he does is about beating people up and we’ve had enough of it.”