McConnell Could Face Tea Party Challenger In Primary

Jul 22, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, already facing a stiff Democratic challenge for re-election, could pick up a tea party primary opponent later this week.

Matt Bevin of Louisville could soon announce he will challenge U-S Senator Mitch McConnell in Kentucky's Republican primary.
Matt Bevin of Louisville could soon announce he will challenge U-S Senator Mitch McConnell in Kentucky's Republican primary.

Louisville businessman Matt Bevin's entry into the race would force a major shift in the McConnell campaign, which has been concentrating entirely on Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's 34-year-old secretary of state.

Bevin is scheduled to announce his plans on Wednesday at the state Capitol in Frankfort. An aide, hinting as Bevin's political intentions, said he would begin a three-day statewide tour after the announcement.

McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said the 46-year-old Bevin, a partner in the Louisville investment firm Waycross Partners, would be "nothing more than nuisance" if he gets into the primary race.

University of Louisville political scientist Laurie Rhodebeck said she doesn't think Bevin can be dismissed so easily.

"Bevin is going to be more than a pesky distraction to Sen. McConnell," Rhodebeck said. She said McConnell is "going to have to spend money and time on the primary, and it's clear he'd much rather be attacking Grimes right now."

Benton said McConnell "will keep his focus where it belongs: working hard for Kentucky every day." He said the campaign team will have no problem dealing with both Bevin and Grimes, if Bevin gets in.

"We have a top-notch organization and can walk and chew gum at the same time," Benton said.

Democrats are closely watching the developments in hopes that McConnell, who has raised some $15 million for his re-election bid, gets a Republican challenger strong enough to force him to deplete the nearly $10 million he still has in his campaign bank account.

"I think Sen. McConnell clearly has a problem within his own party," said Jonathan Hurst, a political adviser to Grimes. "Republicans not only in Washington, but right here in Kentucky, are tired of his obstruction."

Sen. Rand Paul, the tea party Republican who is considering a presidential bid in 2016, said Monday he thinks tea party candidates should focus on open seats. Paul, who has endorsed McConnell for re-election, also said he thinks McConnell will win both the primary and general elections next year.

"I'm not giving him encouragement or discouragement," Paul said of Bevin. "It's a free country, and anybody who wants to run can."