Meet Matt Bevin, The Kentucky Tea Partier Trying To Unseat Mitch McConnell

There will be at least five high-profile primary battles next year in which conservatives will try to oust incumbent establishment Republican Senators.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is the number one target, and hedge fund partner Matt Bevin is the Tea Party candidate hoping to pick him off.

In a slew of post-government shutdown interviews and television appearances, McConnell has refused to mention his Republican primary challenger in next year’s election by name. His “real opponent,” he said, is Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Bevin, McConnell’s primary challenger from the right, isn’t buying that.

In the post-government shutdown world that has divided Republicans, conservative groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund have jumped aboard Bevin’s train. Conservative firebrand and former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin hinted that she might dip her toes into the Kentucky race.

Bevin thinks the divide between him and McConnell is emblematic of a larger split in the Republican Party — between the Ted Cruzes and the John McCains — that characterised the recent battles over the government shutdown and raising the debt ceiling.

“If indeed he thinks I am someone he shouldn’t be concerned about, it is remarkable how much money he is spending on attacking me,” Bevin told Business Insider in an interview on Tuesday. “He tells you one thing, and then he does something different, which is exactly why people are fed up with him as a politician.

“To me, though, it’s a backhanded compliment. Who wants a bunch of negative ads against them? But it’s indicative of the fact that I am who he greatly fears.”

This is the basis of Bevin’s emerging campaign against McConnell, a fifth-term U.S. senator who has been the body’s minority leader since 2008.

It’s a tricky, narrow line for Bevin, a partner in the Louisville-based hedge fund Waycross Partners. At the same time he accuses McConnell of being unwilling to lead, he’s blasting him for not being conservative enough.

Bevin points to a recent event in Danville, Ky., where a man who has supported McConnell throughout his tenure and held two big fundraisers for him in the last two election cycles came up to Bevin with his arms crossed.

“After listening to you,” the man said, according to Bevin, “I want to do a fundraiser for you. I’m not going to fundraise for that man anymore. I’ve had enough. I’m not voting for him again.”

“He’s like the Naked Emperor,” Bevin said. “He parades around and wants us to think he’s invincible and powerful, but he’s not.”

Bevin has picked up on a theme of criticism that is, ironically, shared by many Democrats. On seemingly every recent dominating issue — even the early stages of the shutdown and debt-ceiling debate — the question was: Where the heck is Mitch McConnell on this?

It happened on the debate over authorizing limited military force in Syria, when McConnell didn’t take a position against using force until after a diplomatic solution had been reached. And it happened early on during the first federal government shutdown in 17 years, when McConnell didn’t speak at length on the Senate floor until the third day of the shutdown.

That fact made Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, take notice:

Bevin, obviously, wants different solutions than Reid’s camp. On everything from Syria to, in Bevin’s words, “amnesty” and the immigration debate, to the recent fiscal battles, Bevin claims that McConnell has either been absent or too quick to give in.

There aren’t a lot of senators who currently impress Bevin. He’s a fan of Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), the two conservative leaders of the movement to defund Obamacare through the continuing resolution to keep the government funded. He’s also partial to Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator who, incidentally, has endorsed McConnell in his re-election race.

Where Bevin said McConnell agreed to “negotiate the surrender” with Reid and President Obama, Bevin would have toed the line with House Republicans in the recent shutdown and debt-ceiling debates.

The polls that have subsequently lambasted the GOP are not a factor for him — everyone’s approval ratings went down, including Obama, he explained. Nor was the impending doom of breaching the debt ceiling — Bevin thinks that there should be a binding balanced-budget agreement between the President and Congress to even consider hiking the debt ceiling.

“What would I have done differently?” Bevin pondered. “I would have done exactly what was done by those in the House, who were representing the will of the people. … The people do not want implementation of Obamacare. And I would have fought right alongside those who fought for the will of the people.”

Bevin has a clear uphill battle in his quest to unseat McConnell next May. He raised about $US220,000 in the third quarter, according to the most recent campaign filings. McConnell, on the other hand, has nearly $US10 million cash on hand.

The way McConnell has spent recently, however, is proof to Bevin that McConnell is “scared.” He burned about 92% of what he raised in the third quarter both boosting his own re-election campaign and attacking Bevin and Grimes.

“I’ll admit something to you,” Bevin said. “Three months ago, my path was very narrow.

“It’s getting wider every day.”

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