Many of the conservative and Tea Party groups that backed Sen. Rand Paul's uphill challenge in a 2010 Kentucky Senate race are now behind Matt Bevin, the Tea Party candidate mounting a challenge against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Matt Bevin, Republican candidate for United States Senate, speaks to a gathering at the Spencer County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner Friday Feb. 7, 2014 in Fisherville, Ky. (AP/Timothy D. Easley)
But Paul has endorsed McConnell over Bevin in the Kentucky GOP primary that's gaining national attention because of McConnell's leadership role.
“He endorsed him before I ever got in the race and he's staying true to that,” Bevin told TheBlaze in an interview in Washington on Monday.
But Bevin has his doubts about how close Paul and McConnell are.
“No one in Kentucky is fooled by this seeming relationship,” Bevin said. “The very people who put Rand in office, the very groups that coalesced behind him, all of them are already in support of my campaign. It would be great to have Rand see the light and come on over. He already knows. Rand knows where it's at. But Rand has reasons for doing what he's doing and I respect that. That's his opinion.”
“I supported Rand in his primary, even when McConnell was working actively against him,” Bevin continued. “McConnell was recording videos actively endorsing in that primary against Rand Paul. McConnell wants us to forget the fact that he was determined we would never have a Sen. Paul. During that time I supported Rand. I voted him in the primary. I voted for him in the general. I maxed out for him. I'm a guy who has always been supportive of him. I do like the job he's doing. I think he's a fantastic senator.”
Paul, a potential GOP presidential contender in 2016, would have reasons for not going against a party leader during a midterm election.
Though trailing by more than 20 points in his Republican primary challenge, Bevin had some strong words for McConnell.
“Hopefully McConnell will see the light and decide to retire with dignity saving the party the seat. Not holding my breath,” Bevin told TheBlaze.
The assertion might seem less audacious given that recent polls show Bevin leading the Democratic candidate, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, while McConnell is either tied with or trails Grimes -- boosting the Tea Party challenger's electability argument even if his chances of being nominated still seem to be a struggle.
Bevin told TheBlaze he does not believe McConnell is electable in November.
“I hate to say that. I'm a Republican whose always voted for him,” Bevin said. “He's been our nominee. I've always supported him with my vote in the past because I think relative to the candidate he's running against, he's the better choice.”
The five-term McConnell, who has won by landslides in the past, now looks vulnerable enough that the national Democratic Party is dispatching Bill Clinton to Kentucky and reportedly may send Vice President Joe Biden as well.
“I tell you I don't think Grimes is worthy of being elected. I don't think she deserves to be. I don't think she's representative of who we are in Kentucky,” Bevin said. “But I fear she's going to win anyway because it's going to be pure emotion. People won't care about the issues. They won't care about the experience or lack there of. They'll care about the fact that she's not Mitch McConnell. And as weak as he is, it's unfortunate that we run the real risk in Kentucky of having someone who represents at best a third of Kentuckians representing all of Kentuckians.”
Two polls last week showed that if Bevin could overcome the tall order of winning the May 20 primary, he could be poised to win the general election, beating Grimes 40-36 in a Rasmussen Reports poll. That same poll showed McConnell tied at 42 percent with Grimes.
A separate poll by the Lexington Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV showed McConnell trouncing Bevin by 55 percent to 29 percent, but actually trailing Grimes, who had a 46-42 percent lead over the senator. This poll showed McConnell's approval rating in the state at 32 percent, on a par with President Barack Obama, who is at 34 percent.
Bevin believes if McConnell does manage to be re-elected, he won't retain his leadership position, regardless of whether Republicans take control of the Senate.
“I'm not convinced that he'll keep his seat, period. But that even if he does, he has no control over his conference. None,” Bevin said. “The Republican conference is so fractured, so divided, so devoid of leadership in the Senate. He actually does more to undermine and fracture his own caucus and conference than does anyone. I don't think he'd be elected to any leadership position, whether it's majority or minority leader. He's not going to be rewarded for being a man who shirks his responsibility when it's mos needed."
Bevin dismissed assertions by some Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner and former Bush adviser Karl Rove, criticizing groups like FreedomWorks and the Senate Conservatives Fund for stirring up intra-party conflict.
“Karl Rove is a has-been. He really is,” Bevin said. “He's an antiquated has been of the political right.”
He was less personal about Boehner, but addressed specifically the speaker's comments about conservative Tea Party groups.
“The idea that these outside groups are any more than a representation of the people themselves is a misunderstanding of who they are,” Bevin said. “These outside groups support the will of the people. They are nothing more than the will of the people. The Senate Conservatives Fund is not a one individual-driven organization. They have hundreds of thousands of members. FreedomWorks, hundreds of thousands of members, maybe more. They are the people. They are a collection of many people of like mind all over the country and they've had enough.”
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