When Jesse Benton signed up to run the reelection campaign of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), it looked like a political match made in heaven. But on Thursday, it was just a headache, and one that isn't likely to fade quickly.
"Between you and me, I’m sort of holding my nose for two years because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in ’16, so that’s my long vision,” Benton, a loyalist to Ron Paul and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), said earlier this year in a phone call obtained by The Washington Post.
First things first. For those who have followed the Pauls and McConnell over the years, it was clear from Day One that the alliance Benton and McConnell formed was a marriage of convenience. For McConnell, vulnerable to a conservative primary threat, it meant the head of his operation would be someone well-connected with the tea party and conservative grass roots, something the Republican leader knew he would badly need.
For Paul world, it was a chance to earn the loyalty of the establishment wing of the GOP to which McConnell belongs, ahead of a possible Rand Paul presidential campaign in 2016. McConnell's connection to well-heeled GOP power brokers is a missing ingredient that could give Paul a real shot at the nomination in 2016.
So Thursday's revelation was nothing new, then. But it still matters.
Why? Because McConnell has a primary opponent, businessman Matt Bevin. The Benton news essentially handed Bevin a 30-second attack ad. It's one thing for the media to report the contours of the McConnell-Paul dynamic; it's quite another when audio of Benton acknowledging that reality surfaces, at a time, no less, when McConnell is trying to squash whatever threat his new primary opponent represents.
It's not that voters care about staff stuff. They don't. But this development allows staff stuff to become indicative of McConnell trying to be something he isn't. Or at least that's how his opponents will argue it, anyway.
For its part, the McConnell campaign reacted to the news in the best possible way, by trying to make light of it and pivoting to something else. The GOP leader's campaign tweeted a picture of McConnell and Benton, in which the latter is holding his nose. "RT if you agree: Nothing smells worse than #Obamacare! #NoseGate," read the tweet.
— Team Mitch (@Team_Mitch) August 8, 2013
You can't make fun of me if I make fun of myself first, McConnell's strategy seems to be.
Benton, meanwhile, signaled that he isn't going anywhere. He said in a statement that he is fully committed to getting the Republican leader reelected, and he criticized the former Ron Paul aide who recorded the call, Dennis Fusaro.
“It is truly sick that someone would record a private phone conversation I had out of kindness and use it to try to hurt me,” Benton said in a statement released by the McConnell campaign. “I believe in Senator McConnell and am 100 percent committed to his re-election. Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honors of my life and I look forward to victory in November of 2014."
It's a statement that suggests McConnell's campaign thinks it can beat this story. And they might be able to do that. But for now, it's a problem that comes at in inopportune time. So much for the political match made in heaven.
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