LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Two years after U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed Rand Paul's opponent in the GOP Senate primary, McConnell has hired Paul's campaign manager to run his own re-election campaign.
Jesse Benton also managed U.S. Rep. Ron Paul's presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012 and is married to Paul's grand-daughter. Benton resigned from his leadership post at the Campaign for Liberty earlier this week.
"Sen. McConnell is a unifier," Benton told WHAS11 on Thursday. "He reaches out to all willing parties to try to bring people together. He's a consensus builder."
The bold move by McConnell, a shrewd campaigner who helped resurrect Kentucky's Republican Party in the 1980's, is the latest sign of the Tea Party's increased influence in Kentucky politics.
Yet, the Tea Party is not completely sold on McConnell.
"He's afraid not to acknowledge the Tea Party," said Frank Harris at a Tea Party rally in Frankfort last month.
Asked if he hoped that McConnell faces a tea party opponent in the 2014 Republican primary, Harris was emphatic.
"Absolutely! Absolutely," he repeated.
At that same rally, however, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul vouched for McConnell, calling him "a man who has been more vocal against 'Obamacare' than probably anyone in Washington."
The Tea Party favorite and term limits advocate has forged an alliance with the longest serving U.S. Senator in Kentucky history.
McConnell reminded that crowd that to accomplish their goals, they have to have a seat at the table, and he has a powerful seat in Washington.
"If I'm setting the agenda next January instead of Harry Reid, repeal of Obamacare will be job one," McConnell said to cheers.
"You can't just rest on your laurels and expect voters to turn out and vote for you," Benton said. "You have to continually make the case to them about why you're the best person for the job, let them know what you're doing, let them know what you believe in."
"We're committed to running a presidential-level campaign in Kentucky and that starts with a presidential campaign manager," McConnell said in a statement. "Jesse is literally the best in the business at building and organizing conservative grassroots movements and I'm thrilled he's chosen to return to Kentucky to lead my campaign."
"The attitudes are shifting back toward the ideas that made America so great: self reliance, free market, constitutional government. I think that's extremely positive," Benton said.
Benton said he does not anticipate a primary challenge and would not speculate on which Democrats might enter the race.
In Indiana's May 8 Republican primary, six-term legendary U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar was displaced by State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, fueled by Tea Party fervor and an effective message that Lugar had lost touch with his constituents.
Political observers said Lugar was caught flat-footed. McConnell will not be.
"With all due respect to Sen. Lugar, because he was a very, very nice man and served our country well, Mitch McConnell is a completely different political animal," Benton said. "You're not going to catch Sen. McConnell snoozing like that."