Politics
10:35 am
Tue January 22, 2013

Kentucky Tea Party Leaders Issue Warning to Mitch McConnell, Plan to Draft Primary Challenger

Mitch McConnell
Credit U.S. Senate

A coalition of more than a dozen Tea Party groups in Kentucky are issuing a stern warning to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell against co-opting the grassroots movement — and they plan to draft a challenger for the 2014 Senate primary.

The United Kentucky Tea Party is made up of several independent organizations from across the state. In a press release sent late Monday evening, the group says that McConnell and state Republicans are being "intellectually dishonest" by calling anyone with the GOP leader's campaign personnel a tea party leader.

"What I can tell you is we have a battle plan that we’re executing and to date that plan is working better than we expected. And our goal is to have a primary challenger for Sen. McConnell,” said John Kemper, a spokesman for United Kentucky Tea Party. 

Last September, McConnell hired strategist Jesse Benton to be his campaign manager. Benton led the campaign of Senator Rand Paul and the presidential bid for former Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

Kemper  says Benton does not represent their values and that rank-and-file members will run a candidate against McConnell in the GOP primary.

The vocal frustration from state tea party leaders exploded in the aftermath of McConnell's role in brokering a fiscal cliff deal, but many were split on whether or not to launch an insurgency as a result. A few said they would want to wait until the debt ceiling negotiations were over before deciding whether to back a challenger.

Meanwhile, national media outlets have all but counted out a primary challenge for Kentucky's senior senator in 2014.

From The Hill:

Conservative groups such as FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund do not expect a viable Republican candidate to emerge.

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Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of FreedomWorks and a leader in the Tea Party movement, is a strong critic of the fiscal-cliff deal McConnell recently struck with Vice President Biden. But it is doubtful that his group will back a challenger to defeat McConnell.

Kemper, who ran for state auditor in 2011, confirmed with WFPL that he is on a short-list of candidates who would take on McConnell in a primary.

He says the national media doesn't always understand how the state groups work, adding that many tea party organizations around the country have contacted United Kentucky Tea Party and have shown interest in supporting a primary challenger if they can meet specific goals.

"I welcome any of them to talk to the tea party's in Kentucky," he says. "We're talking to folks all over the country who'd like to support a challenger to Sen. McConnell. They’re just waiting to see how we do here on the ground with our plan and they’re ready to step in if we meet certain thresholds. As this goes forward it should build momentum and it’ll be interesting."

McConnell supporters point out that he has a $7-million campaign war chest and that Sen. Rand Paul, a tea party favorite, has already endorsed him.

"Leader McConnell is a great friend of the Kentucky Tea Parties and is committed to giving them a seat at the table and bringing their voices to Washington," Benton told WFPL in a statement. "I have been taking that message to grassroots groups all over the state and have had a wonderful reception." 

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