Why conservative groups are treading carefully in Mitch McConnell’s primary

July 24, 2013

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) officially has a primary challenger, businessman Matt Bevin. It's an open question whether Bevin will have the support of the two groups that have built a reputation meddling with their pocketbooks in GOP primaries.

Why? Simply, going to war with McConnell is no small decision. And if the groups are going to enter the mix, they realize that they better be sure they are doing it with the right army.


(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Despite what the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund think about the Republican leader, neither is going to go full-bore into a contest against him without a candidate that 1) Stands a chance of winning, and 2) Is in line with their ideologies.

While both groups are open to supporting Bevin, who announced his bid Wednesday, the jury is out on both fronts.

"The Club for Growth PAC met with Matt Bevin many months ago, and we’d like to hear more about his candidacy and the differences between him and Senator McConnell on the issues,” said Club President Chris Chocola. “The Club’s PAC will watch Kentucky’s Senate race – as it would with any race – over the coming months to determine if our involvement is warranted.”

Echoed SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins: "We're open to supporting Matt Bevin's campaign and will be waiting to see if the grassroots in Kentucky unite behind him. The only way to defeat Mitch McConnell is to inspire the grassroots to rise up and fight for their freedoms."

Another complicating factor for the Club and SCF: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The tea party favorite is squarely behind McConnell, and even reiterated his support on Wednesday. What's more, McConnell's campaign manager is Jesse Benton, a Paul loyalist.

So, going up against McConnell means going up against Paul. And doing that without the right candidate would be a foolhardy mission that could backfire for conservative groups.

Even as it's not clear yet how formidable Bevin will be, McConnell's campaign is not giving him a free ride. The campaign launched an ad Wednesday dinging Bevin's business for accepting bailout money.

Time will tell whether Bevin is capable of doing what Richard Mourdock did in his 2012 primary campaign, when he defeated longtime Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar. But for now, he has a lot to prove, even to those who loathe McConnell.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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