Tea party groups, libertarian Super Pac vow to challenge McConnell re-election bid


by Joe Arnold


Posted on January 23, 2013 at 7:10 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 28 at 5:03 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- With speculation rising about actress Ashley Judd challenging U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) in the 2014 general election as a Democrat, Kentucky's senior senator is also hearing some footsteps from the right.

The leader of a coalition of 14 Kentucky tea party groups, United Kentucky Tea Party,  said Wednesday he is considering mounting a primary challenge against McConnell and a Libertarian Super Pac is pledging to support a challenger "should the right candidate emerge."

Dissatisfaction from some tea party groups comes despite McConnell's partnership with tea party darling U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) and McConnell's leading role as Republican Leader of the Senate fighting for tea party priorities of lower taxes and spending and against the national debt.

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"This is the mega issue of our time and the time to fix it is now," McConnell told a business gathering in Lexington on Friday.  "This is the one issue that can keep us from leaving behind for our kids and our grandkids the kind of country that our parents left behind for us."

Yet, a coalition of 14 Kentucky tea party groups is vowing to work against McConnell's re-election next year, led by former state auditor candidate John Kemper of Lexington.

"We're looking for the best possible candidate we can get to retire Sen. McConnell," Kemper told WHAS11.  "This is probably his last race."

Asked if that candidate is Kemper, himself, he said "that's yet to be seen."

"It's time for a change," Kemper said.  "We need the best candidate we can possibly find.  We've got a battle plan that we're working through right now."

The Lexington developer said he is reaching out to wealthy Kentuckians who may be able to pour their own money into a campaign.

Kemper alleged that McConnell and Republican Party of Kentucky leadership are trying to co-opt the tea party movement by hiring Ron and Rand Paul's former campaign manager, Jesse Benton.

"The repeated misrepresentation in the media by Jesse Benton and Senator McConnell's campaign that the Senator is a friend of the tea party, we felt the need to correct the intellectually dishonest nature of these public comments," Kemper said.

"Leader McConnell is a great friend of the Kentucky TEA Parties," Benton responded to WHAS11, "and is committed to giving them a seat at the table and bringing their voices to Washington. I have been taking that message to grassroots groups all over the state and have had a wonderful reception."

Kemper, however, alleged that Benton has been given a polite reception at best in limited appearances before tea party groups. 

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Asked why the tea party groups are speaking out now against Benton, five months after he was hired, Kemper said the "last straw" was McConnell's cooperation with the Obama administration in late December to negotiate a compromise to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

Kemper said the agreement included a sweetheart deal for Amgen, a drug manufacturer, and money for NASCAR and the film industry, angering tea party backers.

The liberal Super PAC Progress Kentucky is trying to recruit challengers to face McConnell.
Now, the libertarian Super Pac Liberty for All, which spent $700,000 of Texas college student John Ramsey's inheritance to help elect Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie last year, is also vowing to unseat McConnell.

"Mitch McConnell is a poster-boy for everything that's wrong with politics: a career politician who's made tens of millions while Kentucky families suffer," said Preston Bates, Liberty for All Executive Director in a news release.

Bates said McConnell is "anything but a tea partier."

Will Judd run against McConnell?

"Mitch McConnell can't afford a conversation with primary voters on his record, so his only prayer is an Ashley Judd candidacy so he can side-step the primary," Bates said.

"Should the right candidate emerge-be they Republican, Democrat, or Independent- Liberty For All will remain committed to electing those dedicated to more civil liberties, more economic freedom, and freeing America from corporate influence," Bates said.

Meanwhile, McConnell continued his call for bipartisan action from President Obama to solve Washington’s "out-of-control spending problem" in a Senate floor speech on Wednesday.

"The President has a choice. He can paint himself as a warrior of the left and charge into battle with failed ideas we’ve already tried before," McConnell said. "He can demean and blame the opposition for his own failure to lead.  He can indulge his supporters in a bitter, never-ending campaign that will only divide our country further. Or, he can take the responsible road. He can help his base come to terms with mathematical realities. He can reach out to leaders in both parties and negotiate in good faith."