By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
Sen. Mitch McConnell now has a 2014 Republican primary opponent. Louisville businessman and millionaire Matthew Bevin announced Wednesday he’s taking on McConnell who he said has been in Washington too long.
“Mitch McConnell has been in the U.S. Senate for nearly 30 years,” Bevin told about 80 of his supporters in the state Capitol. “This is not about Mitch McConnell personally. This is about his long, long, long career as a professional politician.”
The investment manager acknowledged that taking on McConnell is “an uphill journey,” and that the party’s Senate leader has never been defeated in a primary, but now is the time and place to do it because McConnell has lost touch with Kentucky.
McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton said Tuesday that Bevin’s candidacy would be little more than a nuisance, a comment Bevin eagerly took on Wednesday.
“This is going to be the biggest nuisance he’s ever had,” Bevin said.
On Wednesday Benton responded with a statement, which didn’t mention Bevin.
“Mitch McConnell is Kentucky’s greatest advocate and he fights his heart out for our commonwealth,” Benton said. “Mitch is working hard to bring all Kentuckians — Republicans, tea partiers, Independents and conservative Democrats — together to stand against the liberal Obama agenda in Washington. We are grateful for Mitch’s broad support as we move forward to victory in November of 2014.”
And just outside the Capitol Rotunda, state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, waited to give reporters a rebuttal on McConnell’s behalf.
Kentucky would be unwise to replace the man who has fought the policies of Democratic President Barack Obama with a “rookie Democrat or a rookie Republican,” said Thayer, echoing comments McConnell has made about prospective opponents. He said Bevin’s candidacy “is just jousting against windmills.”
Bevin claimed he received threats and offers of inducements to persuade him not to run, but those entreaties “were utterly ineffective.” He would not identify anyone by name.
Both campaigns were attacking the other with television ads Wednesday.
Bevin ran an ad saying McConnell has been in the Senate too long and has lost touch with Kentucky. It accused McConnell of voting for “higher taxes, bailouts, debt ceiling increases, congressional pay raises and liberal judges.”
McConnell was up with his own, titled “Bailout Bevin,” accusing Bevin of accepting $200,000 in federal assistance for a family-owned Connecticut company destroyed by fire and for delinquent taxes.
Bevin reacted testily to the charge of tax delinquency.
“That is an absolute falsehood,” Bevin said, saying the tax liabilities were accrued before he took over and then later paid the back taxes. “But I have come to expect as much over the past 30 years as from mudslinging Mitch.”
Bevin, 46, was accompanied by his wife, Glenna, and their nine children, four of whom they adopted from Ethiopia. The New Hampshire native was introduced by Jenean Hampton, president of the Bowling Green-Southern Kentucky Tea Party, and he has been endorsed by several Kentucky tea party groups.
McConnell has earned the support of a couple of national tea party groups and this week hosted a meeting of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus.
But Bevin said McConnell’s attempt to grab the mantle of the tea party won’t work. He said McConnell is part of a Washington elite; has voted nine times to increase the federal debt ceiling; and has failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans call “Obamacare.”
He said McConnell has demonstrated “an insatiable, unending support for pork barrel spending” and “voted to raise his own pay at least five times.” Bevin called for an end to earmark spending which he characterized as “the dirty, filthy grease that allows bad legislation to pass.” He also criticized McConnell votes on the Patriot Act and immigration.
He wouldn’t say how much money he expects to raise or how much of his personal wealth he is willing to contribute but he said he will have enough to run a credible campaign.
Bevin is hitting McConnell on some of the same issues as Alison Lundergan Grimes, the likely Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, especially McConnell’s nearly three decades in office and votes to increase his own pay.
Thayer said Bevin’s candidacy “makes Democrats happy.” It forces McConnell to turn his attention from Grimes to Bevin and forces him to expend at least some of the $9.6 million in cash he has on hand to combat a fellow Republican rather than Grimes.
Bevin has never run for office before. He was an officer in the U.S. Army and moved to Kentucky in 1999, working with National Asset Management. According to his official biography, in 2008 Bevin joined his family-owned bell manufacturing company — Bevin Brothers — in Connecticut. That’s the company that accepted federal assistance and faced the delinquent taxes cited by the McConnell campaign.
Bevin became president of the company in 2011 and “paid off all the company’s debts and back taxes, modernized the business model and saved more than 200 jobs,” according to the biography.
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.