Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign says primary opponent Matt Bevin is misleading voters about his relationship with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul during the 2010 race.
It is the latest joust in the increasingly ugly GOP primary battle, with McConnell and Bevin putting their ties to Paul and his high-profile status at the center of the contest.
Asked why Paul is endorsing McConnell in the 2014 primary, Bevin told The New York Times it’s due to Paul’s political aspirations.
But Bevin added the two share the same principles and were somewhat close three years ago.
From NY Times:
I’ve known Rand a long time. I was there the night he was elected. I was with him in his suite before he went down. He knows full well that he and I are cut from very, very similar cloth—and that he and Mitch McConnell are not. He understands that.
That is make believe, according to McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton, who is Paul’s nephew and ran his general election bid three years ago.
“The truth is, Rand does not know Matt Bevin well,” Benton says. “The senator tells me that he has spoken to Bevin only briefly, two or three times, and with each conversation he affirmed his support for McConnell in the 2014 Senate race.
“Mr. Bevin’s latest fiction is insulting to the hundreds of Kentuckians who worked hard, supported Rand form the beginning, lead organized community groups, knocked doors, made phone calls or invested financially before it became clear he was going to Washington.”
War on Tea Party donors
McConnell’s campaign has been bearing down on Bevin in the past week and went as far as to suggest the Tea Party-backed challenger could face jail time for a grant application in Connecticut that failed to disclose a $74,000 tax lien.
This comes as the senator is declaring war against fundraising groups that have endorsed Bevin in order to take back the GOP back from its more activist followers.
McConnell also told attendees that Republicans are ready to challenge the tactics of the party’s anti-establishment wing, unlike the passive approach of the past two election cycles, and said they will fight back against people “who believe words like negotiate and compromise” are a bad thing.
McConnell and Cornyn were very specific about directing their fire at groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund, whom they believe have actively misled donors about what is legislatively achievable in order to raise money off of their frustrations, according to another attendee.
The primary race in Kentucky could be the front line of that described Republican civil war, which McConnell and his acolytes appear prepared to fight.
Unlike other establishment Republican senators, however, McConnell has been careful to forge a relationship with Paul, who remains a Tea Party favorite.
McConnell’s campaign is hoping to disavow any possible tie between Bevin and Paul along with any attempt to draw a parallel with their insurgent campaigns among voters and national donors.
Doug Stafford is executive director of Rand PAC, who served as a senior adviser for Paul’s campaign. He says it’s hard for him to remember if Bevin was in attendance or not.
“There were dozens maybe even into the triple digits of people who came in and out of various rooms Rand was in that night, including his and other people’s suites,” says Stafford. “It was a bit crazy that night. I really couldn’t tell you.”
In February, Paul told WFPL he hadn’t spoken with Bevin about running against McConnell, though he did describe the Louisville businessman as a “supporter of mine.” Federal election finance records show Bevin donated nearly $5,000 towards Paul’s general election.
Paul’s office declined to make the senator available for an interview to clear up the matter, but other conservative activists in Kentucky who volunteered during the 2010 race defend Bevin’s relationship with the Tea Party-affiliated senator.
“Matt Bevin was in Rand’s suite after he won the general. I took him there. I was there with him,” says Chris Derry, founder of the right-leaning Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions.
Regardless of Paul’s endorsement of the GOP leader, Derry says, it isn’t lost on voters that McConnell backed his establishment pupil Trey Grayson in the 2010 GOP primary.
“They do come from the same cloth, and I’ve been disappointed that Rand is siding with McConnell on this,” Derry says. “The only thing I can discern from this is, is that he intends to run for president. That’s the only thing that should interfere with Bevin and Paul collaborating, and I don’t understand it.”
UPDATE 12:35 p.m.:
Bevin sent a statement to WFPL responding to the McConnell campaign’s assertion.
“Mitch McConnell will say anything to get re-elected, even when he knows it to be completely false,” he says. “When you need to distract voters from a miserable record of voting for bailouts, tax hikes, and funding for Obamacare, I suppose all you have left is to lie about others. Desperation is unbecoming of a U.S. Senator.”