Wendy Caswell, the recently elected president of the Louisville Tea Party, endorsed Matt Bevin, the businessman who is challenging Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in the 2014 Republican primary, on Thursday. Ms. Caswell was elected as the group’s president only last month, when then president Sarah Durand resigned to become the spokeswoman for the Bevin campaign.
The endorsement, however, highlighted the recent friction between the McConnell campaign and the Tea Party. It also displayed a major strength of the Bevin campaign–the ability to manage the news cycle with quick hitting attacks on a 30 year incumbent.
First, the McConnell campaign was embarrassed in early August when an audio recording of McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton was released in which he said he was “holding his nose” while working on the McConnell campaign. Benton’s claims to Tea Party credibility are based on his management of the successful campaign of Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in 2010.
Then, on Monday, McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore told the Washington Post that “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.”
As Breitbart’s Matt Boyle reported, local leaders of the United Tea Party of Kentucky were concerned that the McConnell campaign was calling them “fringe.”
Bobby Alexander of the Central Kentucky Tea Party told Boyle, “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.”
Scott Hofstra of the United Kentucky Tea Parties told Boyle that McConnell “calls us ‘fringe’ but there are a whole lot of people in the state who are very upset with his lack of leadership.”
The McConnell campaign tried to clarify the “fringe” comment. When they used the word “fringe” they weren’t referring to local Tea Party groups, campaign manager Benton insisted. The campaign was referring to one Washington based group, the Madison Project, not the local groups, according to Benton.
Many Kentucky Tea Party leaders are unsatisfied with the explanation. In a letter Thursday to the McConnell campaign, several Tea Party leaders noted that while the Madison Project is clearly a Washington based organization, the group, from an ideological perspective, has consistently supported candidates who align with the three core values of the Tea Party movement: constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets. What, specifically, they wondered, made the Madison Project “fringe?”
Image Source: The McConnell Campaign