Grassroots Tea Party leaders throughout Kentucky are unhappy with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after his campaign spokeswoman called supporters of his primary opponent “fringe” in a quote to the Washington Post, Breitbart News has exclusively learned. Many local Tea Party groups are supporting McConnell’s opponent.
McConnell’s campaign’s comments came in response to an ad but from the conservative Madison Project, which spent $30,000 to challenge McConnell on his record over immigration and bailouts among other issues. The ads will air over the next few weeks across Kentucky radio stations.
But instead of responding to the ad’s content, McConnell’s campaign fired at Tea Partiers who are supporting McConnell’s primary challenger Matt Bevin.
“Apparently Matt ‘Bailout’ Bevin has a small cadre of fringe friends in Washington who have concluded that conservative governance isn’t half as important as making money off his quixotic Senate campaign, even though polling shows Mitch winning by a staggering 68-21 margin,” McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore told the Washington Post.
The accusation that Tea Partiers and supporters of Bevin are “fringe” does not sit well with Kentucky Tea Party leaders, who in a series of interviews with Breitbart News, unloaded on the senior senator from their state.
“I don’t know where the senior senator gets off,” David Dickerson, the head of the Barron County Tea Party told Breitbart News. “It appears to me that first of all they’re saying Matt Bevin’s not legitimate, and now they’re saying the people who are supporting Matt Bevin are not legitimate? It looks to me like if you’re an opponent of Mitch McConnell, Mitch McConnell just thinks you’re not legitimate.”
“That’s just a little too much ego for my taste. I’ve been a Republican County Chairman in the past, I’ve been a member of the Republican State Central Committee here in Kentucky. I’ve been an elected Republican official. I don’t think I consider myself fringe whether I have Tea Party credibility or I associate with a patriot group or not. I do, and I’m proud to say that I do. Just because I oppose Mitch McConnell, it doesn’t make me a fringe person. It’s just not the way it is. We’re conservatives and we recognize that we don’t have the kind of leadership as provided by Mitch McConnell that is effective for any pro-conservative agenda. He’s a little too willing to fold up the tent and go home when the going gets a little rough especially when an issue comes up that might affect his reelection, which I think is the only thing in this country that matters to him: his own reelection. It’s a typical selfish politician.”
Bobby Alexander of the Central Kentucky Tea Party could not agree more.
“This is typical McConnell strategy to attack and try to discount his opponents,” Alexander said. “When you’re desperate like the McConnell campaign is, they will leave no stone unturned to try to find a way to minimize their opponents. That’s exactly what this is about. We weren’t real ‘fringe’ as far as Tea Party folks down in Kentucky when we supported Rand Paul and defeated Senator McConnell’s hand-picked candidate Mr. Trey Grayson. We weren’t ‘fringe’ then and we’re not ‘fringe’ now. I think Senator McConnell will discover as we go forward in this campaign that there are no ‘fringe’ elements on the conservative side in Kentucky.”
Larry Robinson, the head of the Northern Kentucky Tea Party, said his reaction to McConnell calling him “fringe” is “just a little chuckle.”
“If we’re so ‘fringe,’ I don’t know why he is so concerned about us. He’s spending an awful lot of money,” Robinson said.
Scott Hofstra of the United Kentucky Tea Parties said it appears McConnell is “trying to minimize his own base is what he’s doing.”
“He calls us ‘fringe’ but there are a whole lot of people in the state who are very upset with his lack of leadership,” Hofstra said. “He’s trying to minimize us by calling us ‘fringe.’ But there are a whole lot of people so he can’t really call it ‘fringe.'”
Each of the local Tea Partiers–who were each intimately involved in getting Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) elected in 2010–feels like this kind of remark from McConnell could backfire on him, and hurdle election momentum in the direction of Bevin.
“I think people get tired of these kinds of activities,” Robinson said. “When they do, they [these types of attacks from McConnell] will turn against the person that said them.”
“I think it already is backfiring on him,” Hofstra added. “But that’s McConnell’s modus operandi. He’s a very dirty player. He bashes people instead of trying to run on his own record because he knows he can’t. You never hear about his record because he can’t run on it. So he stoops to doing this to other people.”
Dickerson said he “certainly hope[s]” it backfires on McConnell. “Nobody likes to be belittled by a member of the imperial class in Washington,” Dickerson said. “I think he sees Matt Bevin as a very legitimate candidate and a legitimate threat to his position in the Senate. And I think he’s just lashing out in frustration and desperation by calling people names. That’s not a very noble way for the minority leader, the Republican leader, in the United States Senate to act. I think it’s pretty bad politics to be calling your own folks ‘fringe,’ particularly when you have a primary coming up and those folks have an opportunity to vote. I just don’t think that’s right. I don’t think he should be doing that and I think he needs to stop with the name calling and I think he needs to talk about the things that he has done in his past 29 years or better yet the things that he can accomplish if he gets one more time that he hasn’t been able to accomplish in the past 29 years. This politics of personal destruction is not good. I don’t like it. It’s just something that shouldn’t be done. I just don’t think that we should be insulting people and calling them names and saying that they’re ‘fringe’ folks when they’re the rank and file conservative voters that this country desperately needs right now.”
Alexander said that McConnell “can’t claim Tea Party support on the one hand, and call us ‘fringe’ elements on the other hand.”
“He just can’t have it both ways,” Alexander said. “You see, the senator has had too many campaigns in his past where he was not challenged from his own party. And this is the first time he’s really had to face that. I think he’s desperate and I think he’s living in fear that he’s losing it. So he’s pulling out all the stops and some of these are indeed going to backfire in my opinion.”
Dustin Stockton, a national Tea Party activist who leads Western Representation PAC and has been intimately involved in elections and the grassroots movement in states across the country including Kentucky since 2010, has not personally endorsed anyone in the Kentucky Senate race this year. But he did tell Breitbart News he is not happy with McConnell’s “fringe” comments about Tea Partiers. “It’s a ‘fringe’ position to run for reelection with a disapproval rating hovering around 50 percent,” Stockton said of McConnell. “This is just another case of the establishment putting their personal enrichment over the good of the cause.”
On the other hand, Scottie Hughes of TheTeaParty.Net, a national Tea Party group that has endorsed McConnell for reelection over Bevin, questions whether or not the quote from McConnell’s campaign staff has been misinterpreted. “I think we specifically need to ask Senator McConnell: Were you specifically referring to the Tea Party when you used the word ‘fringe,’ or were you just referring to the supporters of your opponent Mr. Bevin,” Hughes told Breitbart News. “Since I have come into the picture, Senator McConnell has never dodged interaction with the Tea Party and has in fact welcomed the Tea Party into his office and even hosted the Senate Tea Party caucus. That does not sound like the action of a senator who is out to insult the Tea Party.”
Breitbart News has reached out to McConnell’s campaign for comment but has not received any response.
A lot has been made over whether McConnell has conservative and Tea Party support. Of course, TheTeaParty.Net has endorsed him as has Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). But groups like the Club For Growth, Heritage Action and Senate Conservatives Fund–and other national conservative groups that have given key support o leaders like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ron Johnson (R-WI)–have remained mostly quiet. Cruz, Lee and Johnson each refused to back McConnell in his reelection bid against primary challenger Bevin, according to NBC News.
The day Bevin announced his candidacy, the Club For Growth made some noise by pushing McConnell to take a stance on the Obamacare defunding fight Cruz and Lee are leading. They also stated they were not endorsing any candidates yet. Club For Growth did say it met with Bevin and is still considering him as a potential endorsement.
On Tuesday, the Senate Conservatives Fund–a group founded by Heritage Foundation president former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint–is launching a series of ads against McConnell saying he needs to support efforts to defund Obamacare or the group will target him. It still has not endorsed this approach, but this is a sign the group is testing the waters and may make a decision shortly.
Also on Tuesday, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin and ForAmerica chairman Brent Bozell will be visiting Lexington, KY, as the first stop of their “Exempt America” tour calling on Congress–and specifically McConnell–to defund Obamacare in the upcoming Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds government. While Bevin will not be at the event and neither of those two leaders have endorsed in this race, the decision to kick this national tour off in Kentucky sends quite the signal to the Senate Minority Leader while he remains on the fence on the issue.