LEXINGTON, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Two years after his tea party fed election to the U.S. Senate over a candidate endorsed by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul is discouraging a tea party challenge to McConnell’s reelection campaign.
“No one has asked me about running, I have not had any conversation with anybody running on the Republican side,” Paul told WHAS11’s Joe Arnold, “and so I think it's unlikely that there will be a Republican challenger.”
“And you're right, I am supporting Senator McConnell,” Paul continued.
Asked if, therefore, he would discourage anyone from thinking about such a challenge, Paul replied, “Yes.”
“Rand does not run the tea parties in Kentucky,” John Kemper, a spokesman for the United Kentucky Tea Party (UKTP), a self-described “round table of Tea Party leaders from across the Commonwealth of Kentucky” said.
“Actually, the tea party supported Rand and put him in office,” Kemper continued. “The endorsement of Rand to Mitch means less than what the tea party does with Mitch.”
Kemper disclosed that at least three potential Republican primary challengers are being discussed.
“We've actually formed a seven member vetting committee to start talking to potential candidates,” Kemper said.
Kemper, a former candidate for state auditor and Congress, acknowledged he has entered his name into consideration to represent the tea party in the 2014 Republican Senate primary.
Matt Bevin, a Louisville businessman, is the second potential candidate who will be screened by the UKTP, Kemper said, yet declined to name the third potential candidate, at his request.
In previous statements, Kemper has accused McConnell of co-opting the tea party message, particularly with his hiring of Jesse Benton as his campaign manager. Benton ran Rand Paul’s 2010 general election campaign, Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign and is married to Rand Paul’s niece.
McConnell and Paul have forged a partnership on Capitol Hill, including co-sponsoring several pieces of legislation and McConnell endorsing Paul’s 13 hour drone filibuster with a complimentary question on the Senate floor.
In an e-mail to WHAS11 and two other media outlets, Bevin did not disclose whether he had decided to enter the race, only saying that he is willing to be “part of the dialogue that leads to a reversal of the downward economic spiral that faces us as a state and as a nation.”
Bevin has said he is “listening” to Kentuckians’ concerns. In the most recent statement, Bevin adds, “The chorus of discontent is growing louder.”
“I have always believed that real solutions to problems come from the bottom up,” Bevin wrote. “No one person or one party or one political ideology has a lock on brilliance. There will be no easy path ahead, but there is no doubt that a new path needs to be forged.”
Bevin said Ashley Judd's withdrawal from the race "does not have a direct bearing on my decision about whether or not to enter this race...It certainly does inform my thought process, however.”