FRANKFORT — In trying to oust Democrat Adam Edelen as the state auditor in November's general election, Republican state Rep. Mike Harmon hopes his campaign also will sully Edelen as a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate next year against Rand Paul.
"That would be icing on the cake," said Harmon, of Danville. "Of course, the priority is to knock out Edelen this year as auditor."
In his endeavor to do both, Harmon has Jesse Benton on his campaign team.
Benton successfully managed Paul's bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and is working to help Paul be the next president of the United States. Benton also worked for U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's re-election campaign last year, until he left in August when his name was linked to a political scandal in Iowa.
Edelen, of Lexington, laughs at talk that Benton is working for Harmon to tarnish his name as a possible rival against Paul in the 2016 U.S. Senate race.
"I have no plans to run for the U.S. Senate," he said. "I'm running for auditor."
Harmon, who ran for lieutenant governor with Republican Phil Moffett in 2011, and Edelen, a former chief of staff for Gov. Steve Beshear, will face off in the race for state auditor in the Nov. 3 general election. Neither had opposition in Tuesday's primary election to choose party nominees.
Edelen has held the position of auditor since January 2012. The job pays $117,329 a year and had an operating budget last year of nearly $11 million. The primary duty of the office is to audit all accounts and financial transactions of state government spending agencies.
Harmon, an insurance agent who has been in the state House since 2003, said Benton approached him about joining the campaign.
"We sat down and agreed the priority was electing me auditor," Harmon said. "If the campaign knocks out Edelen for considering to run next year for the U.S. Senate, so much the better."
Harmon said Benton has assigned Gus Herbert of Louisville to work daily with Harmon on the campaign for auditor.
Benton could not be reached for comment.
Edelen said he has proven that he is not afraid to do his job, taking on weighty cases including corruption in former state Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer's administration.
"I also have had four pieces of legislation passed on a bipartisan basis in the General Assembly, and Mr. Harmon voted for all of them," Edelen said. "He supported me at every turn, so I don't see how he can attack my record."
Harmon said he thinks Edelen was "too quick to get on board" in this year's legislative session with a proposal by House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, to issue $3.3 billion in bonds to help the struggling teachers' retirement system.
"To me, Edelen was ready to sign carte blanche for more debt," Harmon said. "That should disqualify him to be state auditor again."
Edelen said Harmon is mischaracterizing his position, saying he didn't embrace the bond issue. "I didn't like the idea," Edelen said. "I just said if anyone had a better idea, let's hear it. All I heard from Republicans was crickets."