Matt Bevin, the Louisville, Kentucky, investor who today began a Tea Party-backed primary challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said he’s willing to pour his own cash into an effort to oust “a career politician who’s been throwing the taxpayers’ money away.”
McConnell “can pretend I’m a nuisance, but the fact is, I’ll be the biggest nuisance he’s ever had in his political career,” Bevin said of the Kentucky Republican in a telephone interview between campaign stops, just after declaring his upstart candidacy in the state capital of Frankfort. “I’m not going to match him dollar-for-dollar; I’m going to match him on ideology.”
It’s a bitter start to what could be a divisive contest between fifth-termer McConnell, 71, renowned for his deal-brokering skills in a divided Congress, and Bevin, 46, a political novice and partner at a firm that manages assets for institutional investors and high-net-worth individuals.
The fight is dividing activists in the anti-tax Tea Party with Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul, a hero to the small-government movement, and Washington-based groups TeaParty.net and Tea Party Nation allied with McConnell, while those in the United Kentucky Tea Party support Bevin.
The candidates are already running television advertisements leveling tough charges against each other. In McConnell’s spot, he brands his rival “Bailout Bevin,” referring to $200,000 in grants the state of Connecticut awarded to Bevin’s family manufacturing business after a fire ravaged its factory.
Bevin’s camp has labeled McConnell “Mud-Slinging Mitch.” In his first advertisement, Bevin says McConnell is guilty of “failed leadership,” citing his support for the 2008 financial-rescue package, debt-ceiling increases, congressional pay raises and Democratic-nominated Supreme Court justices.
McConnell, among the most influential Republicans in Washington, is known for his strong political operation and fundraising, making him a formidable target for a little-known financial executive with no campaign experience.
Bevin said his business skills render him better suited to making decisions that affect government finances.
“What I bring to the equation that Mitch McConnell does not is an understanding of how the private sector actually works,” Bevin said, sounding a theme often cited by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a one-time private-equity executive, as his main qualification for office. “I’ve been the CEO of a company that makes bells and the CEO of companies that produce billions of dollars for which people are fiduciarily responsible.”
Bevin said he isn’t concerned about the lack of national Tea Party backing for his candidacy, saying that while he respects Paul, the Washington organizations supporting McConnell don’t speak for Kentuckians.
“There’s nobody who considers themselves a Tea Party person who sees these Tea Party groups inside the Beltway as anything other than marketing machines,” Bevin said. Of Paul, he said: “I know Rand and Rand knows me. Rand has decisions he needs to make that he feels are in his best interests. He’s one vote.”
Some fiscally conservative organizations including the anti-tax Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee created by Heritage Foundation president and former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, are sitting on the sidelines in the race for now.
“We’d like to hear more about his candidacy,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said of Bevin today, adding that the group’s political action committee would “watch Kentucky’s Senate race -- as it would with any race -- over the coming months to determine if our involvement is warranted.”
The Madison Project, a fundraising group for conservative candidates led by former Republican congressman Jim Ryun of Kansas, criticized McConnell today in a statement that called Bevin “a legitimate primary opponent.”
“There’s a profound dichotomy between the way Senator McConnell acts in the Senate and his words on the campaign trail,” said Drew Ryun, the congressman’s son and the group’s political director. “In the Senate, he folds like a cheap seat before the Obama agenda and his radical nominees, yet when he’s on the campaign trail, he knows nothing but the scorched-earth politics of personal destruction.”
McConnell’s bailout charge against Bevin stems from his role as president of Bevin Bros. Manufacturing Co. based in East Hampton, Connecticut, which has been in his family since 1832. The company produces a variety of bells, including the iconic cowbell used by Salvation Army workers clad as Santa Claus at Christmas.
A fire destroyed the Bevin factory last year, and the company and an affiliate each received $100,000 in small-business matching grants from the state of Connecticut to help them rebuild.
In the interview, Bevin said it was “farcical” and “nonsense” for McConnell to compare that help -- which he said he didn’t seek -- to the hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds McConnell supported using to bail out financial firms and the government-sponsored housing entities Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac, among others.
“It is unfair, because it’s utterly unrelated to the absolute squandering of taxpayer money that he has supported in the bailouts,” Bevin said. “The state of Connecticut, the people of that town desperately wanted this little company to continue,” he said of Bevin Bells.
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