Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) endorsed newly nominated GOP gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin at a Lincoln Day Dinner Saturday night.
The endorsement from the state’s junior senator was expected. Most in the audience were more interested in the relationship between Bevin and the state’s senior senator, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who soundly defeated Bevin a year earlier in a bitterly contested GOP primary race for the U.S. Senate seat McConnell still holds. On Friday, McConnell offered a terse one sentence endorsement of Bevin shortly after his primary opponent, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, conceded.
Bevin used humor Saturday night to deflect the big question in everyone’s mind: despite his endorsement of Bevin Friday, will Senator Mitch McConnell lift a finger to help him win the Governor’s election against Democratic nominee Jack Conway in November?
As the Louisville Courier-Journal reported:
The video, with the 1960s song “Happy Together,” playing in the background, opens with Bevin awaking wearing a “Team Mitch” t-shirt and then stripping it off at the behest of his wife who is doing laundry — only to reveal a second “Team Mitch” shirt underneath it
The video shows Bevin with numerous “Team Mitch” stickers on his SUV and calling McConnell to give him intelligence on Sen. Rand Paul’s next filibuster — saying that his sources tell him that Paul is headed to the Senate floor with a pocket full of energy bars and a custom made bladder bag.
There’s a scene of him smiling and reading “Republican Leader,” McConnell’s authorized biography, and getting a “Team Mitch” logo tattooed on his left arm. At one point, you see Bevin’s half of a phone conversation with McConnell in which he’s acting like a teenage lover — “You hang up first. … No. You hang up.”
It was, in a sense, an endorsement of McConnell one year late.
The audience of Republican party functionaries appeared to appreciate Bevin’s video, and was unanimous in professing support for his fall campaign.
“He’s right on all of the issues,” GOP State Senate President Robert Stivers said of Bevin. Last year, Stivers supported McConnell over Bevin in the contested U.S. Senate primary.
Paul, playing the role of senior party statesman, offered Bevin some public advice on working with McConnell:
As the Courier-Journal reported:
“Unity doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything,” U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said during a 15-minute speech. “None of us agree on everything.”
He used his own relationship with McConnell to make his point, saying they work together when they can and disagree when they must.
“We don’t yell and scream at each other. We haven’t had to go to counseling. Yet,” he said.
Bevin appears to have gotten off to a good start in creating unity among all Kentucky Republicans who are not named McConnell. Whether or not he will be able to persuade McConnell to hop on the unity train depends largely on McConnell. So far, McConnell appears to have more enthusiasm for a wet noodle than he has for Bevin.
As Courier-Journal columnist Joe Gerth said of McConnell’s endorsement:
It was as heartfelt and warm as a letter from the Internal Revenue Service.
“I congratulate Matt Bevin on his victory and endorse him for governor.” It packed in all the emotion that the sphinx-like U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell could conjure up for his old foe.
Twelve cold words. That was it. After he had a week and a half to come up with the right tone.
Then there’s that long litany of negative things McConnell and his campaign said about Bevin last year, comments the Democrats are already highlighting at a new website, BevinSelfPortrait.com, as the Courier-Journal reported:
The first salvo was a website called “BevinSelfPortrait.com,” which takes its name from a quote from Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff, which appeared in these pages just after Derby. The website includes quotes about Bevin from other Republicans as well.
Here’s the entire quote provided to the paper by Holmes that gave rise to the website’s name:
“If Matt Bevin had moved to a state where he had a better shot at being elected to office as a Democrat, he would articulate the values of liberalism with the same conviction he now talks about conservatism. It’s abundantly clear that his guiding light is to embrace whatever gets himself a little further down the road. I think he sees the Republican Party the same way he saw that cockfighting convention he attended last year in that he is willing to embrace whatever he believes will get a few more votes. Once it no longer serves his purpose, he’ll run faster than a derby horse down the backstretch. Remember, Bevin’s biggest national supporters last year were rallying around the mantra of ‘defund the GOP,’ during the middle of a pivotal midterm election for goodness sakes.? Bottom line — If somehow Matt Bevin got into the Governor’s mansion his only agenda would be the commissioning of his portrait.”
Still, the November gubernatorial race comes down to issues, and in that area, Bevin may have a huge advantage over Conway, despite polls that show Conway with a 42 percent to 36 percent lead at present.
Just as Mitch McConnell nationalized his successful general election campaign against Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes in last November’s Senate race by tying her to the very unpopular Barack Obama, Bevin plans to do the same against Conway.
And there, Conway is vulnerable.
Despite being the only Democratic state attorney general to sue the Obama administration of proposed coal regulations, Conway continues to steadfastly support Kentucky’s Obamacare health exchange, KYNECT.
Bevin, in contrast, has called for the state to shut down KYNECT, a stand very consistent with the philosophy of his Tea Party supporters.
The 2015 general election campaign for governor of Kentucky is very different from the 2014 Republican primary election for senator from Kentucky. While the gaffes made by Bevin in 2014 and his bitter exchanges with McConnell are not forgotten, the key question is how much that will matter to Kentucky voters when they go to the polls in November to select a new governor.
In a year where Kentucky’s gubernatorial contest is the only significant national election, the twists and turns ahead in this very entertaining race will give political pundits and activists around the country something to focus on while the 2016 Presidential campaign heats up.