FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Ten months and $12 million later, Kentucky Republicans will put end the fight Tuesday between Mitch McConnell and Matt Bevin in a Republican Senate primary that failed to live up to its pre-election buzz.
Bevin, a military veteran and father of nine who had the backing of various tea party groups, spent $3.3 million in his bid to oust McConnell. He was aided by millions more from outside conservative groups such as the Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks. But the Louisville businessman — who owns the company that manufactures the Salvation Army's holiday fundraising bells — was buried by McConnell's more than $9 million in spending and millions more from groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association, which emphasized his conservative credentials.
Recent polls show Bevin trailing McConnell by as much as 32 percentage points heading into election day. Those projections allowed McConnell to set his sights on November, previewing his showdown with likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes as a battle against the policies of Democratic President Barack Obama.
McConnell joked with reporters that the race was "a tough call" before he and his wife were the 26th and 27th Republicans to vote at Bellarmine University about 10:40 a.m. Tuesday.
"I'm very optimistic I'm going to be the nominee of my party, and we're looking forward to the general election," McConnell told reporters before leaving the polling place, adding he felt "very good" about the general election.
Bevin was also upbeat in several campaign stops heading into election day, telling an overflow crowd of more than 100 people at Lexington's Blue Grass Airport that his effort to ride a wave of tea party enthusiasm to Washington was not over.
"This nonsense that somehow this movement ... is dead is bunk," Bevin said. "We know the passion ... and the conviction to do the right thing, that this is alive and well."
In heavily Republican Boone County, 63-year-old David Reynolds said he voted for McConnell.
"I'm conservative, but I think most of the tea party people are a little too extreme," he said.
Mike Lotspeich, 46, said he voted for Bevin. But the lifelong Republican said he would vote for a Democrat in November if McConnell wins the nomination.
"He's in my party, but he's in my way. I can't get what I want done," Lotspeich said. "I will vote to get him out. Whoever has the best chance to beat him. If I can't get rid of Mitch McConnell, I'll never get him replaced."
The winner of the primary will likely face Grimes. While McConnell has tried to define Grimes as an Obama supporter, Grimes has spent the last 10 days visiting 50 Kentucky counties to tell voters she would be an independent voice in the Senate.
"This election is going to be about holding Mitch McConnell accountable," she told The Associated Press after a campaign stop Monday in Shelbyville.
Associated Press writer Bruce Schreiner and broadcast correspondent Gerald Bodlander contributed to this report.