By Ronnie Ellis
CNHI News Service
GLASGOW — Matt Bevin knows he’s going to have to convince a lot of Republicans it’s time for a change if he’s to unseat powerful five-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in the 2014 Republican primary.
He’s behind in name recognition.
He trails in fundraising.
He lacks McConnell’s organization and the backing of the party establishment, an establishment pretty much constructed over the years by McConnell himself.
But Bevin displayed another potential problem here Saturday – he can’t pass up a good discussion of his ideas and government philosophy, even if it means he doesn’t get to as many potential voters.
That was evident as Bevin made the rounds among the crowd attending the East Barren County Volunteer Fire Department fish fry just a few miles east of Glasgow. It was clear Bevin delighted in meeting people and in talking to them about his ideas.
But it wasn’t unusual for him to spend 15 minutes or longer at one table, talking to one or two people while the line queued up for catfish and baked beans moved on and people came – and went.
“He loves it,” said David Dickerson, the former Barren County Republican judge/executive who is active in the local tea party and who invited Bevin to Saturday’s event. “He genuinely enjoys meeting and talking to people. But I keep telling him he needs to move along and meet more people.”
Bevin sat down with current Barren County Judge/Executive Davie Greer and her husband, Jerry, and got straight to the point.
“So, you’re Republicans – how do you think Republicans (in Washington) are doing?” Bevin asked.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” said Jerry Greer, “they’re not helping themselves up there.”
Greer said he was speaking of both Democrats and Republicans, not just Republicans, although several national polls released last week indicated a growing majority of Americans place most of the blame for the government shutdown and partisan gridlock on the Republicans in Congress.
But Davie Greer, who has supported McConnell in the past, told Bevin he faces a tough task. “You’ve got an uphill battle,” she said, explaining she values the power McConnell has amassed as he’s gained seniority in the Senate and become Republican Minority Leader.
“I do,” responded Bevin without hesitation, but then launched into his case. “But what has Mitch McConnell done for you?”
Greer said McConnell has “done a lot.” Asked for specifics, she mentioned help in locating an extension campus of Western Kentucky University in Glasgow and said the Republican senator has directed federal spending to the area – at least before the era of earmarks ended with the ascension of the tea party with which Bevin is allied.
“So, since earmarking ended, since we stopped spending money we don’t have, what has (McConnell) done?” Bevin asked. He suggested Republicans could start to change things by electing him and “no longer expanding government at every turn.” McConnell, he said, is too much a Washington insider.
“You can’t spend 30 years without being beholden to somebody,” Bevin said, referring to McConnell who is seeking a sixth term next year.
Bevin then moved onto “Obamacare,” his term for the Affordable Care Act, a law also opposed by both Greers, saying, “In reality, we’re trying to fix a problem with another problem.”
Asked what he’d propose as an alternative, Bevin offered standard Republican prescriptions: allowing insurance companies to sell polices across state lines, tax breaks for personal savings accounts and tort reform.
Bevin later said he doesn’t put much stock in “glad-handing, superficial” campaigning and by engaging individuals in substantive conversation about the country’s problems he can spread his message more effectively. Those people in turn will share his message with others and his message will reach a wider audience which will increase his support.
While the Greers seemed unpersuaded, Bevin found a more welcoming audience at another table where he talked to Jim Boyter, Boyter’s mother, Dona Rae Boyter, and his son, James Boyter.
The pitch was similar but the reception was warmer.
Dona Rae Boyter said she plans to vote for Bevin and had pretty much made up her mind even before he joined the family at the table.
Jim Boyter isn’t sure just yet how he will vote but he liked Bevin and enjoyed the conversation which sometimes strayed from politics to family anecdotes at times.
“He seemed impressive,” Jim Boyter said. “Talking to him – I just liked him.”
The question is can he talk to enough people to impress the way he impressed Jim Boyter.
Dickerson followed Bevin to the next table with a plate of food he’d retrieved for the candidate. By the time he found Bevin, the candidate was already engaged in conversation with another group of five.
By that time, however, the sun had set, the serving line was closing and most of the crowd had eaten and left. But Bevin didn’t seem to notice – he was busy talking to the five people at his outdoor picnic table.
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.