Tea party activist says McConnell to face GOP primary challenger soon


by Joe Arnold


Posted on May 26, 2013 at 11:28 PM

Updated Sunday, May 26 at 11:52 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- The tea party activist who managed Rand Paul's upstart Republican primary victory in 2010 tells WHAS11 that five-term incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) will soon have a tea party challenger in the 2014 GOP primary for U.S. Senate.

"We're down to a matter of days, perhaps weeks," said David Adams of Nicholasville, Kentucky, "but it won't be long."

Louisville businessman Matt Bevin and former state auditor candidate John Kemper are two of the potential candidates being discussed, Adams confirmed, yet declined to name any others.

"Citizens with 'shoot the lights out' resumes, with an understanding of the constitution and an ability to enunciate that I think will shock a lot of people," Adams said.

Adams has pledged similar imminent campaign announcements in the past that have not materialized, yet he said this time he's betting his "political life" that a competitive tea party challenger will emerge.

Spotted in the crowd at a Louisville tea party rally against the IRS last week, Bevin declined comment on any possible plans, only saying that he continues to listen to those who want him to consider entering the race.

"I understand that Sen. McConnell is very, very upset and very worried, losing some sleep," Adams said.  "And that's good.  That's the proper response for him right now."

McConnell's response since the tea party's strong showing in the 2010 election has been to embrace it.  And his efforts appear to be paying off.

Because McConnell had been speaking out about IRS abuse of conservative groups one year ago, this month's IRS scandal gave him the perfect opening to reintroduce himself to Kentucky tea party voters.

In recent weeks, the Senate Minority Leader has scored endorsements from two national tea party groups, TheTeaParty.net and Tea Party Nation, which explained its support as part of a larger strategy.

"Right now, I don’t see a super candidate on the horizon who can ensure that seat remains in Republican hands," wrote Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation.  "Since the bigger battle is over control of the Senate, this is one fight where we need to decide we can live with someone who isn’t perfect in order to win the larger battle."

Last summer, McConnell hired a prominent "liberty movement" figure, Jesse Benton, as his campaign manager.  Benton also ran Ron Paul's presidential campaign and Rand Paul's 2010 general election Senate campaign.

After endorsing Trey Grayson over Rand Paul in the 2010 GOP Senate primary, McConnell has now forged an alliance with Paul, who is endorsing McConnell and discouraging a tea party challenge.

In March, Paul told WHAS11 that he thought it was "unlikely that there will be a Republican challenger" to McConnell.

"Rand does not run the tea parties in Kentucky," Kemper responded that same day.  "Actually the tea parties supported Rand and put him in office."

Given Paul's statements and the other significant tea party support, Adams acknowledged that "maybe" it's an uphill battle.

"But, that's what Americans do," he said.

Despite all the chatter about potential McConnell challengers in 2014, only two people, both Democrats, have actually declared that intention, Louisville music producer Bennie Smith and Owensboro building contractor Ed Marksberry, the only challenger thus far to file with the Kentucky Secretary of State's office.

In 2010, Marksberry lost a House race to U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie (R) 68 percent to 32 percent.

A review of Federal Election Commission records reveals three other people have filed statements of candidacy for the 2014 U.S. Senate race.  Republican Roger Thoney's statement for the 2014 race was filed in November, 2012; Joshua Pike Mather of Louisville filed as a Republican candidate in February; Steve Schonberg of Belleview, Florida filed as a Democrat in February. None of the three have filed with the Kentucky Secretary of State's office.

Other Democrats to express interest in the race after actress Ashley Judd removed her name from consideration are Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Miss America 2000 Heather French Henry, former Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Williams Garmer and environmentalist Tom FitzGerald.

McConnell has raised about $13 million for his 2014 campaign.