LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- The alliance between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kentucky junior senator Rand Paul includes plans for McConnell's 2014 campaign operation to "fuse" with Paul's 2016 campaign, McConnell's campaign manager told WHAS11 News.
"There is going to be a substantial part of 'Team Mitch' that, God willing, will go and fuse with 'Team Paul,' who already has a great team in place," said Jesse Benton, "and I think will just make a tremendous campaign operation."
Benton managed then Texas Congressman Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign and Rand Paul's 2010 U.S. Senate campaign.
Married to Ron Paul's grand-daughter, Benton was a leading activist in the 'Liberty' movement before accepting McConnell's job offer to run a presidential-level campaign in his bid for a sixth term in the U.S. Senate.
McConnell had supported Rand Paul's opponent, Trey Grayson, in the 2010 Republican Senate primary. Yet after Paul's election, the two Republicans have forged an alliance regarded as helping McConnell win tea party support and helping Paul secure more traditional Republican support.
Benton spoke exclusively with WHAS11 on Friday to refute a comment he made on a secretly recorded phone call in January. On the recording, Benton told a Ron Paul activist that he was "holding my nose" as he managed McConnell's 2014 re-election campaign because it would help Rand Paul's presidential aspirations in 2016. In the interview, Benton refuted the comment and insisted his support for McConnell is sincere.
The recording's release came as McConnell's Republican primary challenger, Louisville investment adviser Matt Bevin, has commenced an assault on McConnell's record as not conservative enough.
In a statement, Bevin's campaign spokeswoman said the "holding my nose" recording "shows that even McConnell's top guy realizes that his boss is not a true conservative, and after nearly 30 years of voting for big-government and big-spending bills, does not deserve to be reelected."
Benton complained about how Bevin and others had jumped on his "difficult situation with such glee," and implored conservatives to stop infighting and bickering.
"Let's stop trying to fight amongst ourselves and tear each other down," Benton said. "Let's follow the great example that both of our senators are setting, find ways to put together a winning coalition that can really make a difference and tackle some of these pressing issues that are facing us."
Despite the call for comity, Benton defended the McConnell campaign's attack ads against Bevin, which label him as "Bailout Bevin" and a tax delinquent, despite Bevin's explanation that he paid off the tax debt's incurred by other family members at an historic Connecticut bell factory.
"We need to let folks know about Mr. Bevin's record and his background," Benton said. "He started this fight and we're going to continue to litigate his record, too."
"Unfortunately, that's the game that it's in," Benton continued. "But we're also at the same time working even harder to again bring people together to talk about the issues and to move forward."
Benton said McConnell is a key asset as Paul moves toward a run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Though Paul has endorsed McConnell's re-election, Benton said he did not know if McConnell would make any direct endorsements in the GOP presidential primary, "but I know that there's tremendous friendship and there's always going to be help and support."
"I know that Senator McConnell is very comfortable putting his hand on Rand's shoulder and telling all the 'intelligentisia' and the talking heads and the insiders who are very, very important in a presidential campaign that Rand is a real true serious player in the presidential race," Benton said. "He should be taken seriously and he should be given the full consideration by all of those types."
In the WHAS11 interview, Benton said he "could see the hurt in his eyes" when McConnell asked him about the telephone recording.
"I told him it's not what I believe," Benton recalled, "and that I am here because I believe in him. And, he's a great guy. He accepted that. I think a lesser man, a lesser leader wouldn't accept that. A lesser man would have pushed me out, quite frankly."
"But he believes in what we're building here and he believes in me," Benton continued, "and he's taken my apology and - that means the world."