This article originally appeared on CNN.com
Matt Bevin reaches into the breast pocket of his jacket and extracts a wrinkled, yellow piece of paper. “Fraud Alert,” it reads, in alarming, official-seeming font. “Sensitive Materials Enclosed. Please Open Immediately.”
A Republican he met received the notice in the mail a few weeks ago and showed it to Bevin, who now carries it with him wherever he goes.
Bevin, Mitch McConnell’s tea party-backed Republican primary challenger in Kentucky, flattens it out on the table in the back of a community ballroom in Georgetown where he just addressed the Scott County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner. The unfolded paper displays a litany of accusations against Bevin: He praised the Wall Street bailout in 2008. He doesn’t pay his taxes. He padded his resume.
“This information is provided as a public service,” the notice explains. It’s an attack mailer from McConnell’s re-election campaign, dressed up to look like an official government notice and sent to thousands of GOP primary voters across Kentucky.
Businessman Matt Bevin was the first serious primary challenger McConnell has drawn in four re-election campaigns, but his advisers say he wasn’t prepared for the full-contact nature of a statewide campaign against a towering figure in Kentucky politics like McConnell. “The guy had no idea what he was getting into,” one McConnell adviser said.
“It’s all made-up lies about me,” Bevin complains, his voice rising as he vents about the negative tone of the primary contest. “It’s unbelievable. It’s crap. This is how he has run his entire race. He’s attacking me for being a member of the tea party while threatening to crush these people and punch them in the nose. All of this is just absolute horse pucky.”
Bevin’s indignation is a source of amusement to people who work for McConnell, who hear Bevin’s gripes and respond with a chuckle: What did he expect?
“The guy had no idea what he was getting into,” one McConnell adviser says.
They can laugh because their private poll numbers look a lot like the public ones: McConnell is coasting to a convincing win over Bevin on Tuesday, making Kentucky’s Republican Senate primary the greatest tea party challenge that never was. Of all the establishment GOP chieftains up for re-election in 2014, McConnell, the wily Senate minority leader who on any given day is either a proud obstructionist or a sly dealmaker, had the biggest tea party target on his back. But like other conservative primary challenges across the country this year, Bevin’s campaign sputtered, in no small part because of McConnell’s heavy hand back home.
The real fight, everyone here agrees, begins on Wednesday, when the still-unpopular McConnell is expected to begin his general election campaign against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in what’s shaping up to be the toughest re-election fight of his career. McConnell’s unfavorable ratings are dangerously high and he is, to many, the face of Washington gridlock.
But McConnell’s likely victory in the primary should not be overlooked, or simply dismissed as just a throwaway win over a hapless challenger. It’s true that Bevin–like other tea party challengers across the country this election year–was imperfect, easily dismantled by McConnell’s powerful and cold-blooded political machine.
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