Politics & Government

Matt Bevin pledges to be standing in 12th round of fight with Mitch McConnell

Flanked by his wife and 9 children, Matt Bevin announced he will  run against Mitch McConnell for U.S.Senate on Wednesday July 23,  2013 in Frankfort, Ky. Photos by Mark Cornelison oe Staff
Flanked by his wife and 9 children, Matt Bevin announced he will run against Mitch McConnell for U.S.Senate on Wednesday July 23, 2013 in Frankfort, Ky. Photos by Mark Cornelison oe Staff Herald-Leader

Ding ding ding.

Matt Bevin's bell company has supplied bells for It's a Wonderful Life, the New York Stock Exchange and a number of famous heavyweight boxing matches.

Now that the bell has sounded to start the fight between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Bevin, the Louisville businessman said Thursday he will still be on his feet when the fight ends.

"I know this: I'll still be standing in the 12th round," Bevin said in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader. "Whether it comes down to the judges' scorecards or whether it's decided before then, we'll let the people of Kentucky decide."

Bevin has taken some fierce jabs from McConnell in recent days as the state's senior senator accused him of being a liar and possible criminal. The allegations stem from a BuzzFeed story that noted Bevin had neglected to mention a $74,000 lien against Bevin Brothers Manufacturing Co. when applying for $100,000 in Connecticut funds to rebuild the bell company after a fire.

"I am in the ring with a person who's determined to try to end the fight now," Bevin said. "I kid you not, he's already resorting to the bite-off-my-ear analogy."

Bevin has endured several attacks from McConnell's campaign since getting in the race this summer, and GOP operatives close to McConnell recently revealed that the senator hopes to use his race against Bevin to battle the Senate Conservatives Fund and other fundraising groups associated with the Tea Party movement.

To Bevin, the idea that McConnell wants to fight those groups instead of him is "a big stretch."

Bevin said the accusations from McConnell are nothing new, and he sees them as a positive sign that the senator is running scared against him.

"They tried that several months ago," Bevin said. "I was a con man, I was the this or the that. It was the same thing, but it didn't stick so they figured they'd try to take another pass at it."

The challenger said he anticipates the attacks will grow more intense. "The way he's going already will make Aqua Buddha look like a warm-up act," he said, referring to an attack Democrat Jack Conway made against U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in 2010 that questioned Paul's religious beliefs.

"He's getting increasingly desperate because he's increasingly fearful that people will hear of me," Bevin said of McConnell.

Jesse Benton, McConnell's campaign manager, replied that "sometimes I feel bad for Matt Bevin. He was sold a bill of goods by predatory, out-of-state consultants and, three months and $600,000 of his own money later, he has learned that Mitch is strong and popular; while his own campaign flounders, Matt's many skeletons are revealed and he becomes ever more frustrated and angry."

Over the course of the interview, Bevin mentioned Paul and Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, as the real leaders in the Senate, and he said he has had conversations with all three.

Paul has endorsed McConnell, whose campaign has questioned Bevin's assertion that Bevin was with Paul the night Kentucky's junior senator was elected. Bevin agreed Thursday with an assessment by Paul in an interview with Political Capital with Al Hunt that there were hundreds of people present with Paul on election night.

"I feel bad for Rand that as a U.S. senator he has to even answer questions about something as trivial and insignificant as who was in his room that night," Bevin said. "It's an insult to him. It's an insult to the political process."

The challenger said he is hearing from Paul supporters who are furious with the senator for supporting McConnell in the primary.

"I'm hearing a lot of it," Bevin said. "Because it went from surprise to disappointment to more than that now. It's progressing to anger. And it's unfortunate, because I do like Rand."

He added: "I like how he has voted. If we were running tomorrow, I'd vote for him again in a heartbeat, unapologetically. But it bothers me because of all that to see the very people who coalesced around him ultimately and propelled him to victory are the very same people who have already coalesced around me."

Bevin said it is far too early to say whether he would vote for Paul for president in 2016, joking: "I don't even know if he wants to be president."

But he warned that many of Paul's 2010 supporters might not be there to back the senator because of his McConnell endorsement.

"And these are people who know him and love him and respect him, but they are increasingly getting angry," Bevin said. "And it saddens me as more and more of them say 'that's it.'"

In an uphill fight, Bevin said progress will be incremental. But once he gets to 40 percent, he said, "it's done at that point" because the donation floodgates will open if he can show that kind of viability against McConnell. Bevin said it will likely take him until spring to reach those numbers.

Bevin raised just more than $220,000 last quarter, a sum Bevin supplemented with more than $600,000 of his own money, as Benton pointed out. But the campaign said that last week was the best fundraising week Bevin has enjoyed since getting in the race.

For his part, Bevin said he is approaching the fight like Kentuckian Muhammad Ali, who let opponents tire themselves out, instead of Mike Tyson, who "used to come out like a crazy person."

"People like Ali were smarter," Bevin said.