Although state's youngest lawmaker was a 'Bevin-type' candidate, he explains why he's backing McConnell

08/07/2013 09:11 PM

As someone who came from out of nowhere to win a state House seat last year with the help of tea party support, Rep. Jonathan Shell might be predisposed to back the underdog tea party candidate in the 2014 Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

But he’s not. Shell, the youngest state lawmaker at 25, said he’s endorsing U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell for practical reasons. He said McConnell, as a leader, can continue to move to the right as more conservative Senators join the ranks of the GOP caucus.

“It has allowed Sen. McConnell to come more to the right. It has not forced him but allowed him to come more to the right,” Shell said (3:15 of the interview). “… Leadership sometimes has to take a bad vote because they’re the ones that are bringing the policy and the legislation farther to something that’s more palatable to your tea party and your conservatives back home.”

Plus, he said, endorsements of McConnell from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie in Northern Kentucky have given political cover to other “non-establishment” Republican officials. (4:00)

But Shell, a farmer from Lancaster, acknowledged that the primary remains “a big concern” because a tough intra-party fight against Louisville businessman Matt Bevin could weaken McConnell heading into a general election, in which Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes is expected to be the Democratic nominee. (6:00)

“I don’t think anybody’s secure. I think anybody can get beat on any given day in any election, and I think I’m pretty well proof of that,” Shell said, referring to his upset win in the 2012 primary in the 36th District that covers Garrard County and part of Madison County. Shell defeated the hand-picked candidate of longtime Republican Rep. Lonnie Napier, who was retiring that year.

“I personally am probably — whenever I ran — more of a Bevin-type candidate,” Shell said (2:00). “… But my race was a lot different. I did not run against an incumbent.”

Shell attended his first Fancy Farm picnic over the weekend and started the interview with his assessment of the messages from the U.S. Senate candidates:

Meanwhile, Shell is preparing for the Aug. 19 special session where lawmakers will draw new district maps for the state House and Senate.

Shell is among seven Republicans expected to be put into districts with other incumbents. Shell is likely to be placed in a district with Rep. Mike Harmon of Boyle County. That was the case in the House’s second attempt at redistricting this spring. That map passed the House narrowly without a single Republican vote but died in the Senate.

Shell discussed his expectations and what he’d like to see happen differently in the future with the highly political process of redistricting, starting with whether a map that pits seven Republicans against fellow incumbents is significantly more palatable than the map from March that had 11 GOP incumbents in districts against fellow sitting lawmakers.

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