Louisville businessman Matt Bevin and the conservative fundraising groups backing his campaign dismissed as fantasy Tuesday a plan by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to make his race against Bevin a proxy war against the national groups.
McConnell might try to run against the Senate Conservatives Fund, which announced a $330,000 television ad buy against McConnell Tuesday, but he'll find it's Bevin who is waiting to fight in the 2014 GOP Senate primary, said Bevin spokeswoman Sarah Durand.
"They can say this race is about anything they want, but the truth of the matter is that this race is about Mitch McConnell's terrible voting record and Kentucky Republicans who deserve better," Durand said.
Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, disputed that McConnell is genuinely interested in a war against his group or others like it.
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"This idea that McConnell's attacks on Bevin are part of some triple bank shot strategy to hurt SCF or other conservative groups misses the real goal," Hoskins said. "I'm sure McConnell would like to hurt our organization, he's been very open about that, but his top goal is to hold on to power. He's a very selfish person and he's looking out for himself more than anything else."
A column in the Lexington Herald-Leader Tuesday revealed an effort by McConnell to make his primary battle against Bevin an end-all war against groups like the SCF, which McConnell's allies accuse of cannibalizing the Republican Party for fundraising purposes.
Republican senators such as Lamar Alexander of Tennessee are part of the larger effort, looking to draw a line in the sand after years of watching the SCF and others target Republican incumbents.
The SCF is spending $330,000 on an ad that hits McConnell for his role in the negotiations that ended the federal government shutdown. It is set to begin running on network news casts and Fox News on cable tomorrow and will run through Nov. 12.
"Conservatives asked Mitch McConnell to lead the fight against Obamacare. He didn't listen," the ad says. "Instead, McConnell helped Barack Obama and Harry Reid fund Obamacare."
Riggs Lewis, a board member of McConnell's SuperPAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, criticized the ad in a statement.
"Senate Conservatives Fund is trying to sell a candidate with a fake degree and a checkered business past by claiming that Sen. McConnell supports Obamacare," Lewis said in a statement. "As we say in Kentucky, 'That dog won't hunt.'"
The McConnell campaign's strategy to target the groups backing Bevin came into view after the senator's campaign seized on a report last week that said Bevin incorrectly claimed he had no outstanding tax liens when he applied for $100,000 in Connecticut state funds to rebuild a factory he owns that had burned.
Just days after signaling he was looking past Bevin to likely Democratic Senate nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes, McConnell embarked on a two-day assault that accused Bevin of being a liar and possible criminal. Bevin has denied any wrongdoing, and there has been no reported legal action by officials in Connecticut since the story appeared on the website BuzzFeed last Wednesday.
Hoskins on Tuesday contested the idea that McConnell is running against anybody but Bevin.
"Mitch McConnell is attacking Matt Bevin because he's worried about Matt Bevin, not because he has some grand strategy to hurt the conservative grassroots," Hoskins said. "McConnell is out of step with Kentucky Republicans and he has to smear Bevin to win. That's what is really happening here."
The SCF was founded by Heritage Foundation president and former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who has long been engaged in a feud with McConnell over who is the genuine conservative.
The group endorsed Bevin on Oct. 18. The Bevin campaign said that, as a result, last week was its best fundraising week since entering the race.
"McConnell's attacks against us and other conservatives won't separate us from our members," Hoskins said. "Our members dislike him and everything he represents. The more he attacks us, the more energized our members become."
Daniel Horowitz, policy director for the Madison Project, another group that endorsed Bevin and has supported candidates such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, took aim at former McConnell aides and others who were quoted in the Herald-Leader story.
"McConnell has been the weakest party leader in decades, turning the Senate GOP Conference into a conduit for Harry Reid to attack conservatives," Horowitz said. "Now he's sending out his alumni — a group of K Street Republicans who get paid handsomely to lobby for amnesty and big government — in hopes of steering the subject away from his failed record."