After serving on the Daviess County Republican Party’s leadership team for almost three years, Owensboro native Barbara Knott had enough.
She resigned on July 10 and the reason was simple; Knott cannot support Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell this fall.
“I have resigned from the executive committee of the Republican Party because I will not support Mitch McConnell,” Knott, chair of the Owensboro Tea Party, said in a telephone interview. “I have a big 4×8 sign in my front yard that says ‘Retire Mitch.’ It’s going to stay there through the election. I will not vote for that man.”
Knott does plan to come out to support other Republican candidates. But in terms of McConnell she is “just fed up” despite voting for him in the past.
Other grassroots conservatives across Kentucky like Knott say their disdain for McConnell has grown in the two months since the GOP primary.
Those activists said McConnell’s involvement in the Mississippi Republican primary, specifically funding a controversial ad against the Tea Party challenger, further damages any chance at reconciliation ahead of his contest this fall with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
In the Mississippi runoff, incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran defeated challenger Chris McDaniel by a razor-thin margin. Part of Cochran’s victory was an appeal to Democrats, specifically African-Americans voters, who were allowed under Mississippi law to vote in the GOP primary as long they didn’t vote in their own.
In the weeks leading up to the June 24 runoff, a group called Mississippi Conservatives ran attack ads suggesting McDaniel’s victory would setback Mississippi race relations.
A review of campaign finance records released this week shows that same group received hefty donations from seven sitting GOP senators, including a $50,000 from McConnell’s Bluegrass Committee.
Kentucky conservatives, like Tea Party groups nationwide, were watching the race closely.
“There are an awful lot of people that are not happy with McConnell at all over that,” said United Kentucky Tea Party spokesman Scott Hofstra. “We’re going to see a lot of our folks either not vote for senator, they’ll vote for the down ticket races. They may go for the libertarian, but I don’t see them voting for McConnell or for Grimes.”
“It’s Time to Unite”
When McConnell defeated his own Tea Party-backed challenger, Matt Bevin, on May 20, supporters pointed out how easy it was. Bevin won just two counties. Political observers noted how masterfully McConnell’s campaign picked his opponent apart.
It came at a price, however. Over one-third of Republicans voters sided against McConnell’s nomination. On the night of the primary, the tactical GOP Senate leader moved quickly to heal his own base.
“A tough race is behind us. It’s time to unite,” McConnell said on May 20. “Know your fight is my fight.”
McConnell’s campaign said at the time that he would receive a post-primary boost in the polls because conservatives would return to his camp.
In such a tight slugfest, the entrance of Libertarian Senate candidate David Patterson on the ballot this fall could present a spoiler for Republicans. But it isn’t a worry for McConnell’s re-election team or allies.
Republican strategist Scott Jennings is a former McConnell campaign aide who now runs super PAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership and supports the senator’s re-election. He said the two major party candidates are so well defined it’s going to be hard for a third party contender to be impactful.
Jennings added Kentucky conservatives of all stripes understand the importance of re-electing McConnell to take the country in a different direction.
“I think the party is coming together just fine and I don’t detect any problems for McConnell on GOP unity,” he said.
“Ultimately, this is a national race and a vote for Grimes has the impact of empowering the agenda of Barack Obama and Harry Reid. Republicans and conservative Democrats and independents don’t approve of that agenda.”
Some local Republican leaders agree a third party candidate likely won’t hurt McConnell’s chances. There is a concern about the lack of excitement at the top of their own ticket, however.
“As far as unifying, I wouldn’t say people automatically feel the same way,” said Chris Holt, chair of the Daviess County Republican Party.
“Probably more than half of the executive committee feels like Barbara Knott does. It’s about 50-50, so my job as chair is to try to bring both together. I’m not sure if Daviess County will go for McConnell or not.”
The senator’s re-election team released an ad this week focused on Obama’s pollution controls. McConnell recently said at a stop in Western Kentucky the president is waging a “jihad” against the coal industry.
That may not be enough to energize Republicans like Boone County resident Robert Klette, who is chair of the local Tea Party. He has pledged not to vote in the Senate race this year.
“I don’t know there’s anything McConnell can do,” he said. “He does something like that (in Mississippi) and wants the unity of the party in Kentucky to stand firm. How can you do that? You have no principles if you do and if you don’t stand by that you don’t have anything.”