“The support simply wasn’t there in the Senate,” Pay said. “But I think a lot of people feel that the line on the Republican side was not held hard enough.”
Pay, a self-described “tea party conservative,” said he’s always voted for McConnell and plans to do so again. “But I haven’t met Matt Bevin,” he said.
Bevin was a new face to many of those gathered Thursday night at the farm bureau for his appearance, which was hosted by the Spencer County Tea Party.
“He’s got to be better than what we’ve got up there,” said Michael Burress, the 59-year-old owner of a trucking business who decided to attend after McConnell struck the deal this week. “I’m disgusted, just with him giving in.”
Bevin told the crowd that the government shutdown was horrible but blamed it on the Democrats for refusing to pass budget bills sent from the House. Unlike McConnell, he said, he would have forced a debate in the Senate.
“What I would have done differently is held this caucus together,” he said.
Bevin, a former Army officer, showed a knack for retail politics, remembering the names of children he met earlier in the night. He told the friendly crowd about his hardscrabble upbringing in New Hampshire and his success as an investor and joked about how “uncool” he and his wife are as they pilot a 12-passenger van for their family, which includes four children adopted from Ethiopia. He weaved in references to Thomas Jefferson, the Kardashians and Groucho Marx, and called McConnell a “charlatan,” an “empty suit” and a “political bully.”
Bevin noted that McConnell was taking him seriously enough to send trackers to videotape his appearances, including the one Thursday night in Taylorsville.
“Tyler, I hope you get paid by the mile, because if you do, you’re making a fine fortune,” Bevin said, waving good-naturedly to a young man standing behind a tripod in the back of the room.
“McConnell hears the footsteps, and for good reason,” Bevin continued. “As Gandhi said, ‘First, they ignore you. Then, they ridicule you. Then, they attack you. And then you win.’ ”
The crowd burst into hearty applause.
“Who do I make the check out to?” asked Sue Schaefer, a 57-year-old graphic designer sitting in the second row.
“He is saying exactly what I’ve been thinking,” she said after the meeting. Until now, Schaefer said she thought McConnell was a shoo-in. “But now I think he could be beat.”
Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.