Politics
3:18 pm
Wed January 30, 2013

MoveOn, United Kentucky Tea Party Dismiss McConnell Campaign's Infiltration Charge

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell
Credit File photo

Liberal and Tea Party groups are denying claims by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign that they are working together to defeat the GOP leader in 2014.

In a campaign fundraising e-mail Monday, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton told supporters that liberal organizers were "attempting to infiltrate conservative" groups across the state.

A previous message accused MoveOn.org of backing a "phony Tea Party" in an attempt to hurt McConnell in a primary race.

But MoveOn spokesman Nick Berning says they are not working with any Tea Party groups in Kentucky, and that they will seek to defeat McConnell in a general election.

"It's understandable that Mitch McConnell is frightened to face voters in 2014, and his focus on MoveOn members' electoral might is well founded, but his fantasy that we have teamed up with the Tea Party to elect someone even more out of touch than him is ridiculous," he says. "MoveOn's nearly 70,000 members in Kentucky are tired of McConnell carrying water for Wall Street and leading the 'Party of No' at the expense of poor and middle class families, and he should expect we will hold him accountable for it—in the general election."

In a January 28 piece in Politico, Kentucky MoveOn field organizer Keith Rouda is quoted as saying: "We are doing a lot of reaching out to some of the tea party folks."

Rouda has been a spokesman for MoveOn in past efforts, but also volunteers for the Super PAC Progress Kentucky, which admits to actively courting Tea Party organizations to challenge McConnell.  Asked what organization he was speaking for in the Politico story, Rouda initially said neither.

"I've had discussions with (MoveOn) about the degree to which they stand behind this. My intention in that interview was not to pull the organization into the campaign," he says.

But when WFPL asked Rouda if he was a Progress Kentucky spokesman when he was speaking to Politico he said: "I don't know the best way to answer that for you."

A Progress Kentucky leader later confirmed that Rouda does work for the Super PAC as a spokesman. And national leaders with MoveOn told the radio station that Rouda was not speaking on their behalf in any capacity, but the McConnell campaign says the liberal group is trying to backpedal.

"MoveOn got caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Their cynical plans to try to exploit my friends in the TEA Party have been exposed, and now the are desperately trying to walk it back," says Benton.

A recent Courier-Journal poll shows that only 17 percent of voters say they will vote for McConnell next year, and national reports have focused on how the GOP leader faces criticism his political left and right.

No formal cooperation has been announced and neither a Democratic or Tea Party opponent has stepped forward to challenge McConnell.

United Kentucky Tea Party spokesman John Kemper has also denied working with liberal groups to take McConnell down.

"Mitch could only dream that was true, conservative values of the Tea party are like a bright light to a cockroach," said in a news release. "Folks, we could not have scripted this folly unfolding before our eyes, even in our wildest imagination. Little did I know when Senator McConnell said while speaking at the Boone County GOP dinner in November, 'we will run a presidential level campaign' he meant a ‘middle school class presidential campaign’. Kentucky deserves better." 

In an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader on Tuesday, however, Kemper did admit that he has talked with Democratic donors in the state.

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