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Primary question: Will Bevin supporters switch to Mitch?

by Joe Arnold


Posted on May 22, 2014 at 6:51 AM

Updated Friday, May 23 at 4:59 PM

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story included a question to Bevin by WHAS11 whether he planned to attend a Republican Party of Kentucky (RPK) unity rally.  According to the RPK, it has no separate unity rally planned after the primary, and instead will use the Lincoln Dinner on June 7 for its party unity event.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Fresh off his thumping of challenger Matt Bevin in Tuesday's Republican U.S. Senate primary, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will be joined at his Louisville campaign headquarters on Friday by Kentucky's junior senator Sen. Rand Paul (R) to discuss the fall election against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Paul is a tea party favorite who endorsed McConnell but did not actively campaign for him in the primary against Bevin, who had significant tea party support.

Paul may need to be a key advocate for McConnell as he reaches out to the 36 percent of Kentucky Republican voters who chose Bevin on Tuesday.

McConnell took the first step during his victory speech Tuesday night, asking his supporters to "give Matt Bevin a hand," the same Matt Bevin McConnell's campaign had maligned as a "con man."

"Matt brought a lot of passion and tenacity to this race and he made me a stronger candidate," McConnell told supporters, "A tough race is behind us.  It's time to unite."
Republicans find themselves in a position Kentucky Democrats know well --- a fractured party after a contentious primary.  
Democrats believe their party is more unified than ever.  
From the official launch of the Grimes campaign last year to the victory rally on Tuesday night,n there has been no sign of the decades long feud between Governor Steve Beshear and Grimes' father, Jerry Lundergan. Beshear introduced Grimes at both events.
Bevin is still smarting from sustained attacks by the McConnell campaign.
"It has cheapened their accomplishments and weakened the foundation of their platform," Bevin told his supporters during a concession speech which drifted from conciliatory to combative.
Bevin told WHAS11 it stands to reason that his supporters won't defect to Grimes, but he won't tell them to vote for McConnell.  He's not sure he will.
"I'm not going to commit to something until I get to that point," Bevin said.  "I'm just not, it doesn't make sense to do it."
John Kemper, whose tea party support helped gain him the GOP nomination for Kentucky auditor in 2011,  said McConnell would have to make an effort to unite the party, as McConnell did in 2010 when his endorsed candidate, Trey Grayson, was thumped by Rand Paul in the Republican U.S. Senate primary.
Kemper was one of the tea party activists who recruited Bevin to enter the race.  He had not decided on Tuesday night whether he would switch his allegiance to McConnell.
"I'll be honest with you, there are some who will not (support McConnell). They just, they won't." 
"We still believe the same things. It doesn't mean we give up," said Larry Hausman, a Bevin supporter and former congressional candidate.  "We just go back, regroup. We come back out, again."
Hausman said he plans to vote McConnell against Grimes.
Several national tea party groups which backed Bevin in the primary immediately switched to MccConnell, including the Senate Conservatives Fund, the Madison Project, Tea Party Patriots and Red State blogger Erik Erickson, who made a campaign donation to McConnell Tuesday night.
One of the other tea party activists who recruited Bevin to challenge McConnell, David Adams, is also supporting McConnell in the Fall. Adams managed Rand Paul's 2010 primary campaign. 
"I'm on board with Team Mitch for the fall campaign, absolutely," Adams told WHAS11.  
"My expectations, frankly, are not very high.  But my expectations for his Democratic opponent are exceedingly low."