The Louisville Tea Party has endorsed Republican Senate candidate Matt Bevin, who is calling on incumbent Mitch McConnell to take part in a number of upcoming primary debates.
“We polled our membership and overwhelmingly their support was to endorse Matt,” says Andrew Schachtner, who is president of the local Tea Party group.
Bevin has already received the official support from the United Kentucky Tea Party, a coalition of over a dozen such groups from across the state.
It was last August when McConnell’s camp slammed the former Louisville Tea Party president, who eventually endorsed Bevin, for being a registered Democrat.
Earlier this month, McConnell said Republicans plan to “crush” primary insurgents across the country. Since then, the GOP leader’s re-election team has argued those words weren’t about the Tea Party movement as much as two specific groups backing Bevin—Senate Conservatives Fund and The Madison Project—that attack GOP incumbents for financial gain.
But that explanation hasn’t satisfied conservative activists with FreedomWorks or the Tea Party Express, which is flirting with endorsing Bevin publicly.
“Those comments while they might have been initially directed at just one or two groups, it’s indicative of how McConnell perceives Tea Party groups throughout the country,” says Schachtner. “He doesn’t want us to have a seat at the table either in the Republican Party itself or in government. That’s a problem and a bad attitude when we should have an open process.”
It is doubtful McConnell will participate in any open debates, however. The senator holds a double-digit lead over Bevin in the polls and Team Mitch has been generally dismissive of the idea.
At least four different candidate forums have been scheduled, including KET’s statewide TV broadcast in April. Others are the Kenton County Women’s Republican on March 24; West Liberty Rotary Club on April 1; and the American Family Association on April 8.
Bevin plans to attend all of those forums, but the McConnell campaign has yet to announce if they’re accepting any invitations ahead of the May 20 election.
“I think (McConnell) is unable to defend his record and he knows it. I think he’s afraid literally to be seen on stage with me for a variety of reasons,” Bevin told reporters at a press event Thursday.
“There’s a stark difference from a number of perspectives when people both see and hear the two of us articulate why we’re in this race and why it matters. My reasons for being in this race have nothing to do with naked personal ambition. His absolutely does. It’s always about him attaining more power, and the people of Kentucky deserve better than this.”
In response to WFPL’s inquiries, the senator’s re-election team ignored the question when asked if they plan to attend any of the planned debates. But McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore did take a jab at their opponent.
“After already losing one debate to our campaign manager, bailout Bevin has spent the last eight months changing his story to whatever he thinks people want to hear on everything from where he went to school to what he stands for,” she says. “In the interest of consistency, he should probably debate himself and come back after he has declared a winner.”
Bevin has tried mightily to contrast his views with McConnell as the more conservative option for voters whether on the health care law, debt ceiling or recent gay marriage ruling.
In recent weeks, pundits have said Bevin has “veered off message” as the persistent negative attacks by McConnell and his allies appear to be working. But as more national Tea Party groups are backing Bevin, the Louisville businessman is hoping for a boost in the final two months.