FRANKFORT — The campaign manager for Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said in a taped phone conversation earlier this year that he is "sort of holding my nose for two years" as he works for McConnell's 2014 re-election bid.
Jesse Benton said working for McConnell now would help a possible presidential bid by Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in 2016.
"Between you and me, I'm sort of holding my nose for two years because what we're doing here is going to be a big benefit for Rand in 2016," Benton said on the recording. "That's my long vision."
The recording was published by the Economic Policy Journal, which said it was made in January 2013 when Dennis Fusaro of the Reformed Theological Seminary called Benton to ask a question about the presidential campaign of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, who is Rand Paul's father.
Benton, who is married to Ron Paul's granddaughter, was spokesman for Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign. He also led the 2010 general election campaign of Rand Paul, who rode the Tea Party wave to defeat Attorney General Jack Conway.
In an email Tuesday, Benton called the recording "truly sick" and said he is "100 percent committed" to McConnell's re-election.
"It is truly sick that someone would record a private phone conversation I had out of kindness and use it to try to hurt me," Benton said. "I believe in Sen. McConnell and am 100 percent committed to his re-election. Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honors of my life and I look forward to victory in November 2014."
McConnell's hiring of Benton last September was seen by many as a move to endear himself with the Tea Party in an effort to avoid a nasty Republican primary in 2014.
Still, Republican businessman Matt Bevin of Louisville announced his primary campaign against McConnell last month. Bevin is backed by several Tea Party activists in the state, although McConnell has won the endorsement of Rand Paul and two national Tea Party groups.
Bevin's campaign immediately seized on the Benton recording.
"Even Mitch McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, thinks something stinks with the Mitch McConnell campaign," Bevin campaign spokeswoman Sarah Durand said. "His admission that he is 'holding (his) nose for two years' while he works for McConnell shows that even McConnell's top guy realizes that his boss is not a true conservative, and after nearly 30 years of voting for big government and big spending bills does not deserve to be re-elected."
The campaign of McConnell's chief Democratic opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, declined to comment.
The Weekly Standard reported that Fusaro, a former Ron Paul campaign aide, confirmed the authenticity of the call.
Fusaro told the publication that Benton and he were in "one-party consent" states, where only one person on the phone is required to know that a conversation is being recorded.
Fusaro called Benton to ask about allegations that Ron Paul's deputy campaign manager had paid an Iowa state legislator to support Paul for president.
On the recording, Benton denies being involved in any such payment and asked Fusaro to provide proof of the allegation.
Fusaro told The Weekly Standard that he waited until now to release the audio because he wanted Benton to "do the right thing" concerning the allegations that the Ron Paul campaign had paid an Iowa lawmaker.
"He's incapable of doing the right thing," Fusaro said.
Jack Brammer: (859) 231-1302. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.