By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
FRANKFORT Judged by the usual political campaign measuring sticks, Matt Bevin’s prospects to take down incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell in next May’s Republican primary don’t look too promising.
Bevin, the Louisville investment manager, is far behind in fundraising and publicly released polls. McConnell has raised $17.7 million with $10 million of that in the bank while Bevin reported raising only $822,000, $600,000 of it from his own pocket. A July poll by Wenzel Strategies, a Republican pollster, showed Bevin behind by as much as 40 points.
No matter, says Bevin.
“Things are good. Honestly, the path (to winning) gets wider every day,” he said. “From the beginning, there was a path to victory that was driven by people’s desire for an alternative (to McConnell) and the path has just gotten wider and wider and wider.”
Bevin doesn’t have any polling to back that up. Instead, he talks about the reception he gets from groups he talks to.
Those who come, Bevin said, often come out of curiosity, “not used to people who will sit and talk to them for two or three straight hours and answer their questions.”
Bevin is often inclined to sit and engage a table of prospective voters in lengthy conversation about issues that drive him: federal spending and the national debt. He accuses McConnell of switching positions on immigration, failing to take a stand on military action against Syria until the question was decided and failing to fight continued funding of the Affordable Care Act.
But it won’t be easy to deliver those messages to the larger population, given the funding disparity between the two campaigns.
“I mean, we will never have the kind of money (McConnell) has,” concedes Bevin. “But we will have the money we need to execute the ground game we need to turn out the votes we need to win.”
Bevin began advertising on television the day he announced he was running, paid for with his own money. He said that was necessary to introduce himself to voters and to defend against McConnell’s usual campaign strategy of defining an opponent before he can define himself.
That didn’t stop McConnell from running ads hitting Bevin for accepting a grant to keep a family-owned Connecticut company, Bevin Brothers, going after a fire and labeling him “Bailout Bevin.”
McConnell’s campaign has also accused Bevin of misrepresenting his education background and failing to report tax liens in his application for the Connecticut grant, charges repeated Thursday by McConnell’s campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore.
“Matt Bevin has serious integrity and character problems that start with him misrepresenting who he is, where he went to school and what his business practices are, and end with a total distortion of Sen. McConnell’s record,” Moore said.
Meanwhile, Bevin is now running a radio ad accusing McConnell of “funding Obamacare” through McConnell’s negotiations to re-open the government. But the ACA is what is called a permanent appropriation — approved in a prior session of Congress and an entitlement — and the shutdown did not affect funding for the new law.
Bevin said that didn’t include funding for implementing the ACA and its troubled website, claiming the accusation against McConnell is valid. McConnell’s spokeswoman scoffed at the accusation.
“The average Kentuckian would drop to a knee in laughter at the suggestion that Sen. McConnell is insufficiently committed to repealing Obamacare,” said Moore. “Matt Bevin was filling out phony paperwork for government bailouts in Connecticut when Mitch McConnell was holding more than 50 hospital town halls in Kentucky to talk about his quest to repeal Obamacare.”
McConnell recently seemed to turn attention to the general election, ignoring Bevin, but that changed last week when he began running ads against Bevin. His backers say part of the reason is a determination to fight back against conservative groups that threaten to support primary challengers to Republican incumbents.
Two of those groups, the Senate Conservatives Fund, founded by former South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, and the Madison Project, have endorsed Bevin, who said there may be others in the offing, though he wouldn’t reveal them.
Nor would he say whether he expected former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to endorse him or campaign for him.
“You know, she has written about her interest in this race (on her Facebook page), but I don’t speak for her,” Bevin said.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.