Matt Bevin, a Louisville investment advisor, hopes to duplicate Rand Paul’s feat by knocking off Senate leader with Tea Party support.
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
FRANKFORT, Ky. (CFP) — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has drawn a Tea Party-backed rival in the 2014 Republican primary, dashing hopes that he might sail into the general election unopposed.
Matt Bevin, 46, who is a partner in a Louisville investment firm, is expected to announce his candidacy July 24 at the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort before kicking off a three-day tour of the commonwealth.
McConnell’s campaign was quick to strike back at news of Bevin’s impending Senate run. Campaign manager Jesse Benton dismissed his candidacy as a “nuisance,” despite recent public polling showing large numbers of Republican voters in Kentucky open to a candidate other than McConnell.
Tea Party activists unhappy with Republican incumbents have been searching for potential challengers in a number of Southern states, including South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee. But McConnell is the first sitting GOP senator in the region to actually draw a serious primary challenger.
In 2010, Rand Paul, backed by Tea Party groups, shocked the GOP establishment in Kentucky by beating Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the Senate primary. He went on to win the seat in November.
McConnell backed Grayson in that race. But once Paul got to the Senate, McConnell conspiciously cultivated Paul and his supporters. Among his moves was hiring Benton, who was not only Paul’s campaign manager but is married to his niece.
Paul has since endorsed McConnell for re-election, dashing the hopes of Tea Partiers who want to get rid of the top Republican in the Senate.
A group of 15 Kentucky Tea Party groups released a letter July 22 blasting what they called McConnell’s “progressive liberal voting record, his absolute iron fisted rule over the Republican Party in Kentucky and his willingness to roll over and cede power to President Obama and the liberals in Washington.”
If McConnell makes it through the primary, he will face Democratic Secretarty of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who, at just 34, is nearly 40 years younger than the 71-year-old McConnell.
Grimes won her post in 2011 with 60 percent of the vote, the best performance by a Democrat in any statewide race. However, McConnell’s campaign has already started a drumbeat tying Grimes to President Obama, who lost Kentucky by 23 points in 2012.
McConnell has already raised more than $9 million for the race, giving him a substantial advantage over both Bevin and Grimes.