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Mitch McConnell’s GOP challenger picks up another conservative endorsement

FreedomWorks, a conservative activist group with Tea Party ties, comes out for Matt Bevin

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

kentucky mugLOUISVILLE, Kentucky (CFP) — The conservative jihad against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky continues, with the group FreedomWorks endorsing McConnell’s Republican primary challenger, Matt Bevin.

Kentucky Senate challenger Matt Bevin

Kentucky Senate challenger Matt Bevin

“Matt Bevin is a great upgrade for Kentuckians who are serious about transparency, fiscal responsibility and accountability in government,” said Matt Kibbe, the president of the FreedomWorks, in a January 22 statement.

McConnell’s campaign dismissed the endorsement, accusing FreedomWorks of changing its focus “from conservative reform to conservative cannibalism.”

FreedomWorks, which bills itself as a champion of smaller government and lower taxes, has a history of backing anti-establishment candidates in GOP primaries, including U.S. Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida.

The group is backing Bevin even though the its own scorecard of Senate votes this year gives McConnell a rating of 73 out of 100.

In 2010, the group endorsed Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock’s successful challenge to Senate veteran Richard Lugar. Despite Indiana’s Republican tilt, Mourdock went on to lose in November after he said that if a woman gets pregnant during a rape, the pregnancy is “God’s plan.”

Republican leaders, including former Bush political consigliere Karl Rove, have been critical of FreedomWorks and two other prominent groups, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth, for backing weak contenders in Republican primaries, in the process helping Democrats keep control of the Senate.

The Senate Conservatives Fund has poured nearly $1 million into Bevin’s campaign, counting both direct contributions and independent expenditures made on his behalf. The Club for Growth has not yet entered the Kentucky race.

Bevin, 47, of Louisville is a former investment adviser who now runs his family’s bell manufacturing company in New Hampshire. This is his first run for political office.


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

McConnell, 71, has been in the Senate since 1985. He was elected GOP leader in 2007 and would become majority leader if he wins re-election and Republicans pick up the six seats they need to take control.

McConnell has a substantial financial advantage over Bevin, outraising him by a 10-to-1 margin.

Whoever wins the Republican primary will face Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is the only Democrat in race.

McConnell is the Democrats’ top Senate target in 2014 and likely the only chance they have to pick up a seat anywhere in the South.

Oklahoma Senate race takes shape, as U.S. Rep. James Lankford gets in

Lankford, a Baptist pastor and rising star in the GOP leadership, is already drawing flack from conservative activists

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

oklahoma mugOKLAHOMA CITY (CFP) — Oklahoma Republican U.S. Rep. James Lankford is running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Tom Coburn, getting into a race that’s shaping up as a battle between the GOP establishment and its Tea Party wing.

U.S. Rep. James Lankford

U.S. Rep. James Lankford

Lankford, 45, a Baptist pastor who was first elected to represent the state’s 5th District — based in and around Oklahoma City — in 2010, says he feels “a clear calling” to seek higher office.

“The Senate is currently the most contentious body in our government,” Lankford said in a YouTube video announcing his Senate bid. “I want to continue to bring Oklahoma common sense and solutions to a place that needs both.”

In just his second term in Congress, Lankford was elected as chair of the House Republican Policy Committee, the fifth highest position in the House leadership. He also has a coveted seat on the influential House Budget Committee, chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee.

However, that insider resume is already drawing fire from Senate Conservatives Fund, an activist group that has angered Senate GOP leaders by backing Tea Party insurgents trying to topple incumbents.

“We have reviewed his record, and it’s clear that conservatives cannot count on him to fight for their principles,” said Matt Hoskins, the group’s executive director, in a statement.

The group is critical of Lankford for his support of the recent bi-partisan budget deal, designed to avoid a government shutdown, as well as his votes to increase the federal debt limit. He’s also being criticized for a comment he made last summer that he “wouldn’t prohibit forever” illegal immigrants working their way to legal status.

The SCF is pushing instead for first-term U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa to run for Coburn’s seat. Bridenstine, a Tea Party favorite, made headlines last year after he voted against the re-election of Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Bridenstine has said he is considering the race but has not announced a decision.

Two other Republicans mentioned as possible candidates for Coburn’s seat, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt and U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, have said they will not run.

Coburn, 65, who is battling prostate cancer, announced January 17 that he would leave office at the end of the year, triggering a special election for the remaining two years of his term.

View Lankford’s announcement statement:

Senate Conservatives Fund pours $1.7 million into three Southern Senate races

Anti-establishment group funds GOP primary insurgents in Kentucky, Mississippi and Louisiana

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

Kentucky Senate challenger Matt Bevin

Kentucky Senate challenger Matt Bevin

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The Senate Conservatives Fund is proving itself once again to be a signficant thorn in the side of the GOP establishment, announcing that it has poured more than $1.7 million into insurgent U.S. Senate campaigns in three Southern states.

The biggest recipient of the fund’s largesse has been Matt Bevin, a Louisville businessman challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. He has received almost $986,000, counting both direct contributions and independent expenditures made on his behalf.

In Mississippi, State Senator Chris McDaniel, who is challenging the incumbent, Senator Thad Cochran, has received nearly $516,000. In Louisiana, Rob Maness, one of three Republicans seeking to oust Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu, has received $241,000.

Maness, a retired Air Force colonel, is running against U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, who has GOP establishment support both in Washington and Louisiana.

In announcing the fund’s expenditures January 3, SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins said “it shows how determined people are to elect true conservative leaders who will stand up to the big spenders in both parties.”

The SCF, founded in 2008 by former Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, has drawn the ire of Republican leaders in Washington by backing primary challengers to sitting senators and supporting Tea Party-allied candidates against candidates considered more mainstream.

In the 2014 cycle, the fund has put a particular bullseye on McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate. However, despite nearly $1 million in fund support, McConnell still holds a huge fundraising advantage over Bevin, reporting nearly $10 million in cash on hand at the end of September.

Cochran, however, holds a much less formidable advantage over McDaniel, with a mere $800,000 on hand at the end of September. He didn’t announce that he was seeking re-election until early December.

In Louisiana, Cassidy had almost $3.5 million on hand at the end of September. McDaniel, who only entered the race in October, has not yet reported any fundraising figures to the Federal Elections Commission.

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