“I don’t feel he represents us or that he’s, frankly, even in touch with where we are,” Bevin, a self-made entrepreneur and affable father of nine, told the audience. “I think these last several days have helped to indicate some of that. There’s a certain amount of disdain.”
He added, “There are a lot of naked emperors that are parading around in Washington. These emperors need to be exposed.”
More than two hours later, the room was still packed and people had their checkbooks out on their laps, ready to back him.
“I went in completely unconvinced,” said Taylorsville resident Chris Sullivan, a retired naval officer. “And now I’m going to go work for his campaign.”
A tour through picturesque Spencer County, where sod farms and cattle fields bump up against suburban homes, reveals how the Beltway negotiating skills that McConnell touts count against him among conservatives who want to upend the system, not work within it. By forging a compromise, many said this week, the Kentucky senator let down their hopes of using the government shutdown and threat of default as a way to hobble President Obama’s signature health insurance law.
“I’d have liked to see him take a harder line against Harry Reid,” said David Ladwig, a 38-year-old payroll compliance officer, as he lined up at the lunch counter of the wood-paneled Elk Creek Restaurant, where the scent of fried chicken filled the air. “If he is opposed by a strong conservative, I would vote against him.”
That is the opening that Bevin, a wealthy investment manager, hopes to push through. It will be an uphill climb: The political novice has a fraction of McConnell’s financial resources and is little-known by most voters in a race that is likely to be the costliest 2014 contest.
Bevin raised $220,000 in the last quarter and threw in $600,000 of his own money. McConnell pulled in $2.3 million during the same period, giving him nearly $10 million in the bank heading into the fall.
There is no independent polling available yet showing how the two Republicans match up. But McConnell’s allies scoff at Bevin’s candidacy, saying his assertion that the longtime senator is not a true conservative will not fly with Kentuckians.
“I don’t personally believe Matt Bevin has gained any traction in this campaign,” said Scott Jennings, a veteran GOP strategist advising a pro-McConnell super PAC called Kentuckians for Strong Leadership. “His message is essentially that Mitch McConnell is friends with Barack Obama. If you listen at all to Mitch McConnell, you know that he has been the biggest thorn in Barack Obama’s side.”