Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin believes the legality of cockfighting should be decided by states and not the federal government, his spokeswoman said Wednesday following a news report that Bevin attended a pro-cockfighting rally over the weekend.
"Matt doesn't believe this is a federal issue, and the state government can handle it," said Rachel Semmel, Bevin's spokeswoman.
The News Journal in Corbin reported Wednesday that Bevin, who is seeking to defeat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the May 20 primary, spoke to about 700 people at an event in Corbin last Saturday that was organized by Michael Devereaux, director of the Gamefowl Defense Network.
Bevin told the newspaper that he didn't know he had attended a pro-cockfighting rally, although organizers told the paper there was "never any ambiguity" about the purpose of the event, which was to rally support for changing laws that outlaw cockfighting.
Bevin said he thought the event was a rally for states' rights. He spoke to the crowd in the morning before attending the county's Lincoln Day dinner that night.
"I was the first person to speak and then I left," Bevin said. "They knew I was here. They asked if I would be interested in speaking. I'm a politician running statewide, any chance I get to speak to a few hundred people I'm going to take it."
Semmel's statement about Bevin's belief that cockfighting is a state issue came in response to a question about whether the candidate supports the controversial practice, in which two roosters often fight to the death in a ring called a cockpit. She did not respond to a follow-up question asking again whether Bevin personally supports the practice.
The McConnell campaign, which has repeatedly accused Bevin of dishonesty, was skeptical that Bevin didn't know the purpose of Saturday's event.
"Only Matt Bevin would go to a cockfighting rally and claim he didn't know what they were doing there," McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore said.
As the Herald-Leader reported in February, McConnell enraged cockfighting enthusiasts when he voted earlier this year in favor of farm legislation that contained an amendment making it a federal crime to be a spectator at an animal fight. In response, a McConnell spokesman said a representative of the senator's would be willing to sit with the group and hear their concerns.
The new law makes attending a cockfight or dogfight a federal misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and $100,000 fine. It makes bringing a minor to such fights a federal felony, punishable by up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The penalties included in the new federal law put serious teeth into what is already criminal activity, although Kentucky law enforcement officials have rarely cited individuals for the misdemeanor offense.