Sparks fly as Republican Bevin squares off against McConnell aide in Senate debate

jbrammer@herald-leader.comSeptember 17, 2013 

From left, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin; Sen. Mitch McConnell's campaign manager Jesse Benton; and Libertarian candidate David Patterson attended Constitution Day ceremonies.

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U.S. Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, and GOP challenger Matt Bevin served up the sharpest exchanges of the 2014 U.S. Senate race Tuesday at Constitution Day ceremonies at the University of Kentucky.

About the only issue Benton and Bevin agreed on was that Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes has given "rambling responses" to the U.S. handling of the crisis in Syria.

Grimes was invited to attend the 10th annual UK event but declined because of duties related to her office of Kentucky secretary of state, her campaign said. McConnell could not attend because the U.S. Senate was in session, Benton said.

That left the stage to Benton and Louisville businessman Bevin.

David Patterson, the Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate, attended the UK ceremonies but did not participate in the U.S. Senate debate.

Before about 100 students on the Lexington campus' main lawn, Bevin said he is the only candidate in next year's race who has created jobs in the private sector.

"Mitch McConnell has never worked in the private sector a single day in his entire life. You have been paying his salary since he was a young man and got out of school," Bevin said.

"He's now 70-something years old and doesn't have a clue how the real world works."

Benton, in reply, said Bevin had little room to talk about the private sector because he lied on his résumé.

McConnell's campaign launched an attack ad against Bevin earlier this year over his claims of educational ties to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In March, Bevin had listed MIT under his education profile based on his attendance at an entrepreneurial program on the MIT campus. Critics argued that Bevin was misleading people by implying that he was an MIT graduate.

Bevin later revised his social networking page after school officials said the program he attended was a three-week seminar with no formal link to the school.

"When you lie on your résumé, as Donald Trump would say, Matt, you're fired," said Benton.

That prompted Bevin to ask Benton whether he ever worked in the private sector. Benton said he had founded his own public relations company.

"How about your boss?" Bevin asked.

Benton replied, "It's an awful shame that Mr. Bevin, for his own personal ambition, has decided he wants to try to tear people down."

McConnell is the "No. 1 target of national liberals," Benton said.

Bevin said Democrats want to run against McConnell, and not him, because McConnell is "the least popular senator in this nation, because people are fed up with him."

Bevin claimed that Benton and McConnell are "devolving this race into an eighth-grade name-calling contest."

He said he wants McConnell, "instead of sending surrogates, to debate me on any issue at any time right here on the University of Kentucky."

Benton then peppered Bevin with specific questions "to show what you do and do not know" about being a U.S. senator.

They included how many articles there are in the U.S. Constitution, what Article 5 says and what the three rebel factions in Syria are.

Bevin was not able to answer Benton's questions and said Benton was trying to "play gotcha."

"What is important is who is most capable of representing this state," Bevin said.

Benton accused Bevin of uttering "grand platitudes." He said Bevin reminded him "of a really angry guy. I don't want him close to the panic button."

Bevin said he is serious, not angry.

On Syria, Bevin said the United States has no reason to be involved militarily in that Mideast country. He said McConnell did not speak out against military intervention until he saw "which way the wind is blowing" on the issue and learned that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wasn't going to take a vote on a possible military strike.

Both Bevin and Benton said Grimes has not been consistent on what to do about Syria and has never said whether there should be military intervention.

Before the debate began, Benton said Reid is hosting a fundraiser Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and one next month in Las Vegas, both for Grimes.

"We think it's a real shame Senate Democratic leadership has abandoned statesmanship. There's always been an agreement that a leader would not support an opponent of another leader," Benton said.

He also said Grimes claims that she is for coal but is accepting campaign help from Reid, who once said, "Coal makes us sick."

The Grimes campaign said the Washington fundraiser Wednesday is not a campaign event. Reid's office did not reply to an email message seeking information about it.

Jack Brammer: (859) 231-1302. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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