published Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Tea party opponent signals he'll take on Senate Republican Leader McConnell

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A tea party challenger signaled on Monday that he intends to take on Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in next year's GOP primary in Kentucky.

Louisville businessman Matt Bevin's entry into the race would force a major shift in the McConnell campaign, which has been concentrating entirely on Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's 34-year-old secretary of state.

Bevin is scheduled to announce his plans on Wednesday at the state Capitol in Frankfort. Sarah Durand, a tea party activist and aide to Bevin, hinted at his political intentions Monday when she distributed a media advisory announcing that he would begin a three-day statewide tour after the announcement.

McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said the 46-year-old Bevin, a partner in the Louisville investment firm Waycross Partners, would be "nothing more than nuisance" if he runs.

University of Louisville political scientist Laurie Rhodebeck said she doesn't think Bevin can be dismissed so easily.

"Bevin is going to be more than a pesky distraction to Sen. McConnell," Rhodebeck said. She said McConnell is "going to have to spend money and time on the primary, and it's clear he'd much rather be attacking Grimes right now."

Benton said McConnell "will keep his focus where it belongs: working hard for Kentucky every day." He said the campaign team will have no problem dealing with both Bevin and Grimes.

Democrats hope that McConnell is forced to deplete his campaign account in the primary. He has nearly $10 million left of the $15 million he's raised for his re-election bid.

"I think Sen. McConnell clearly has a problem within his own party," said Jonathan Hurst, a political adviser to Grimes. "Republicans not only in Washington, but right here in Kentucky, are tired of his obstruction."

Sen. Rand Paul, the tea party Republican who is considering a presidential bid in 2016, said Monday he thinks tea party candidates should focus on open seats. Paul, who has endorsed McConnell for re-election, also said he thinks McConnell will win both the primary and general elections next year.

"I'm not giving him encouragement or discouragement," Paul said of Bevin. "It's a free country, and anybody who wants to run can."

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