Louisville businessman Matthew Bevin will run against Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in the 2014 GOP primary, several Kentucky Tea Party activists have confirmed with WFPL.
For the past few months, Bevin, who is owner of the Connecticut-based Bevin Brothers Manufacturing, a bell-making company, has been meeting with Tea Party activists who are frustrated with McConnell’s representation.
McConnell has tried mightily to forge an alliance with the more conservative wing of the GOP in his home state. A strong, well-funded challenger from the right could hurt McConnell in the general election.
“He’s running,” says a prominent Tea Party activist, who spoke to Bevin about the U.S. Senate race on Friday. “I think he’s a dream candidate, and he’s willing to write a seven digit check to prime the pump and the tea parties all around the state are for him. I don’t know why they’re so anti-Mitch McConnell, but they are.”
Other Tea Party leaders have told the radio station Bevin could announce as early as next Monday while others say the campaign will launch closer the August 3 Fancy Farm Picnic, where McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes are expected to speak.
In a telephone with WFPL, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton responded to the news by blasting Bevin, saying the businessman would be doing the “Obama Democrats” bidding by entering the race against the GOP leader.
“Matt Bevin is not tea party and he’s not a Kentucky conservative,” he says. “Matthew Griswold Bevin is a traveling East Coast con man, and nothing more. He’s simply a nuisance and we plan to make sure everybody in Kentucky knows exactly who this guy is, like I said a traveling east coast con artist.”
Last December, McConnell praised the Tea Party movement for energizing Republicans despite observers who say more conservative candidates have cost the party key Senate elections in the past two cycles.
But it had appeared McConnell would not have to worry about such a challenge in his own backyard, and he had successfully quashed his GOP insurgency with vocal support from fellow U.S Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., two Tea Party favorites who advised against a primary challenge.
Asked if Paul and Massie will stick with the McConnell campaign against Bevin’s potential bid, Benton says the full congressional delegation is behind the senator and the state GOP will fall in line as well.
“We support of 95 percent of all state elected officials in the state House and Senate, and of course we have the full support Sen. Pau and that will be unwavering and very strong,” he says.
It was McConnell who hired Benton—who is Paul’s nephew—last year as an overt attempt to court the Tea Party, but that hasn’t gone over well with activists. Tea Party leaders in Kentucky still hold a grudge at McConnell for his roll in the fiscal cliff deal negotiated in January among other things.
“I can tell you for a fact Jesse Benton has upset a great number of the tea parties in the state as has Mitch McConnell, who has no Tea Party backing in the state at all,” says United Kentucky Tea Party spokesman Scott Hofstraf. “The Tea Party’s in the state of Kentucky are very upset with the McConnell campaign and with Jesse Benton.”
UPDATE 6:10 p.m.:
Former Louisville Tea Party president Sarah Durand sent WFPL the following statement on behalf of Bevin.
“Matt Bevin will shortly be making an announcement about his political future. It is unfortunate that Mitch McConnell is already slinging mud instead of talking about his record. Voters deserve better,” she says.
UPDATE 8:12 p.m.:
Tea Party activist David Adams, who ran Paul’s 2010 primary campaign manager, confirmed with LEO Weekly that Bevin is the challenger he had been touting number of weeks.
It is also being reported that a “Matt Bevin for Senate” is reserving air time for ads in the Louisville and Bowling Green areas beginning next week.