Joined by his wife and nine children, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin accepted a 25-point thumping at the hands of Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell in Tuesday’s primary.
“This was never about winning a single seat,” he told supporters. “This was never about new version of the same old thing. This was about the very heart beat of America. We’ve heard a lot about this somehow being a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. But every single one of us knows this is so much bigger than that.”
In the end Bevin, spent $3.3 million in the failed bid, including $1.2 million of his own money. The final results showed even with every Kentucky Tea Party groups support and the cheerleading of conservative commentators such as radio show host Glenn Beck, it was never close.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting McConnell won 60 percent compared to Bevin’s 35 percent.
The Tea Party-backed challenger won just two counties fulfilling McConnell’s pledge to crush the primary opposition. But some argue losing one-third of the GOP vote has put a small dent in McConnell ahead of the general election facing Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
A recent Bluegrass Poll shows 39 percent of Bevin voters plan to back McConnell. That same survey shows that a quarter Bevin’s base said they would vote for Grimes instead.
While that seems highly unlikely to most observers, Minnesota political science professor Eric Ostermeier says McConnell hardly scored an impressive victory in the context of Kentucky history.
“The last time a sitting senator from the Bluegrass State registered less voter support than McConnell’s 60 percent was during a primary election 76 years ago when two-term Democrat Alben Barkley faced six challengers on the primary ballot including Governor Happy Chandler, en route to winning 56.1 percent of the vote,” he says.
The primary results also represent the first time in U.S. history that a Senate floor leader has received less than 75 percent of his own party’s support.
Acknowledging the need to heal those fresh wounds, McConnell thanked Bevin for running a vigorous campaign during his victory speech. He went on to say the challenge “made me a better candidate” ahead of the fall election.
Asked whether he plans to vote for McConnell, Bevin told reporters he definitely won’t support Grimes but has yet to make up his mind.
“I have to see who all is on the ballot at that point,” he says. “It would look as if he would be shaping up to be the only guy that I would have any likelihood of supporting. Again, I’m not going to commit to something until I get to that point. It doesn’t make sense to do it.”
From the start Bevin faced a brutal uphill battle against the GOP leader. McConnell’s massive war chest was spent on a relentless attack that carved up Bevin’s business dealings and personal credibility.
Those negative ads may be hard for Bevin to get over even as outside groups who were bitter McConnell critics line up behind the senator. In an online message, Senate Conservatives Fund quickly urged GOP voters to unite. That’s a good sign for Republicans given how SCF and the McConnell campaign had been engaged in an ugly war of words.
On this front Bevin appears to be neutral, which is probably best as far as McConnell is concerned.
“My supporters will support who they want to support just as they chose in this race to support who they wanted to,” says Bevin. “I’m not anybody’s dictator with respect to where their votes go and I don’t intend to be. What I challenged people to do was to think for themselves, be engaged, and recognize where the solutions are going to come from and to be part of that.”
For WFPL’s complete coverage of the primary, go here.