In another sign that the 2014 U.S. Senate race has kicked into a higher gear, a conservative group allied with Louisville businessman Matt Bevin is opening five field offices as part of the effort to defeat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Madison Project, a player in Sen. Ted Cruz's upset win in 2012, is planning to open Get-Out-The-Vote, or GOTV, offices in Louisville, Florence, Owensboro, Glasgow and Bowling Green, the Herald-Leader has learned.
The offices will have paid staff and trained volunteers, said Drew Ryun, the group's political director and former deputy director of the Republican National Committee.
In an interview during the weekend, Ryun said he and his team had studied turnout results in recent Kentucky elections, especially those in Sen. Rand Paul's 2012 primary win over then-Secretary of State Trey Grayson, whom McCon nell backed. The cities picked for offices, Ryun said, represent traditionally strong areas for McConnell, so they're "going where Mitch McConnell thinks his strength is and kicking the legs out from underneath him.
"If you want to win statewide, you've got to win the right counties," Ryun said. "And if you're going to win the right counties, you've got to win the right precincts."
The offices are opening in coordination with several of Kentucky's different Tea Party organizations, and Ryun said he had been visiting the state since September to train staff and volunteers on the "nuts and bolts" of GOTV plans.
Ryun emphasized the importance of a ground game while noting that conservative groups such as the Senate Conservatives Fund and Club for Growth were in better financial positions to handle costly television advertising.
McConnell and his allies probably will have an overwhelming financial advantage over Bevin and the groups backing him.
"As with all campaigns you can never have enough money, but I do think the ground game can be a great equalizer," Ryun said.
After a string of Republican Senate losses in recent years — losses that McConnell and others in the GOP think have cost the party control of the Senate — Kentucky's senior senator has declared war on groups like the Madison Project.
In an effort to make the May 20 primary the final battle in a lengthy war between establishment Republicans and outside groups, he has been painting Bevin as a proxy for Tea Party fundraising groups.
On Sunday, Allison Moore, McConnell's spokeswoman, said the Madison Project had a failing plan to reach out to conservatives if their strategy was to attack McConnell or Paul, noting that Ryun said in a tweet last week that Paul was a "tool."
"Their genius strategy is to smear Mitch McConnell, call Rand Paul a 'tool,' and then ask Kentucky Republicans to abandon their own and support Matt Bevin," she said. "They've got a better chance of signing up Barack Obama than any Kentucky conservatives to help their cause."
If McConnell sees the stakes of his race as critical to the future of the Republican Party, the feeling is mutual, Ryun said.
He repeatedly declared that the "stakes are high" in the 2014 race. He envisions offices that will stay open after the election to build a permanent infrastructure for Tea Party groups as the Republican Party continues to wrestle with a havoc-wreaking identity crisis.
Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.