FRANKFORT — U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's re-election campaign is contending that Democratic liberals are trying to infiltrate conservative groups in the state to oust McConnell next year.
Tea Party activists in the state who disfavor McConnell deny the claim, saying they are not working with any Democratic group in an effort to retire the Republican senator from Louisville.
In a campaign fund-raising email Monday, McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, said every conservative in the state needs to be aware of "an important development."
He said a report by Politico, a political journalism news group, "confirmed that (President) Barack Obama's Democratic allies are attempting to infiltrate conservative organizations across Kentucky to encourage and fund opposition to Senator Mitch McConnell."
Benton said liberals know that McConnell "has stood side-by-side with conservatives in Kentucky and they need to manufacture a movement against him to get attention to the race."
The email referred to a Politico report which quoted Keith Rouda, a field organizer with the public policy liberal group "MoveOn" and the Super PAC "Progress Kentucky." "We are doing a lot of reaching out to some of the Tea Party folks across the state," Rouda is quoted as saying.
Benton also noted a recent report in Mother Jones magazine that said "extreme liberal special interest groups aligned with President Obama have been holding planning meetings to mount opposition to who they refer to as 'Public Enemy No. 1' to their agenda, Mitch McConnell."
Benton did not identify any specific conservative group in Kentucky that he thinks has been infiltrated by Democratic liberals.
McConnell referred to Benton's comments in a seperate email on Tuesday, urging supporters to "stand strong for what we believe and reject this cynical campaign ploy."
Rouda told the Lexington Herald-Leader Tuesday that Progress Kentucky, which he said is not associated with the Democratic Party, is not working with any conservative group in the state. He added that MoveOn has "not stepped into this race."
"We do have overlapping interests with the Tea Party in that we would like to see a new U.S. senator from Kentucky," Rouda said, "but we are not coordinating any effort with any Tea Party group in Kentucky."
John T. Kemper III, spokesman for the United Tea Party of Kentucky, said he has not been contacted by any Democratic organization about opposing McConnell. He recently said his group is looking for a candidate to run against the Republican Senate leader.
"I have talked to some Democratic donors in the state who are concerned about McConnell staying in office but I think it's intellectually dishonest for McConnell's campaign to imply that Democratic liberals and conservatives are working together."
Tea Party activist David Adams of Lexington called the McConnell campaign's comments "an inside-the-Beltway fantasy that shows McConnell has been in Washington way too long.
"We need to replace him with a more conservative Kentuckian."
Jack Brammer: (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com