Former Paul strategist Jesse Benton to head up McConnell's 2014 campaign

09/13/2012 08:04 AM

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell has moved further from his usual pattern of tapping trusted aides to lead his re-election bid and has hired tea party stalwart Jesse Benton, who ran U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s 2010 general election campaign.

Benton, who is married to the granddaughter of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, served as the elder Paul’s political director during his last presidential race and took over Rand Paul’s campaign for U.S. Senate in 2010.

The Washington Post described the hire as both an “early move” and “curious” because of Benton’s loyalties.

McConnell has pledged to run a presidential-like campaign in Kentucky and is already well ahead of where past Senate leaders have been in fundraising for their re-election bids.

McConnell also has been quietly making overtures to the tea party in Kentucky. Many of his district aides have been attending tea party meetings over the last two years to listen to activists’ concerns and explain what McConnell, as Republican Senate leader, has been doing to advance conservative causes. Last month, McConnell appeared at his first major Kentucky tea party rally with Sen. Paul.

In a statement, McConnell praised Benton as a top talent in Republican campaign politics.

“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,” McConnell said.

So far, no Democrat has filed to challenge McConnell.

In past re-elections, McConnell has looked within his network for his top campaign staffer. His former chief of staff, Hunter Bates, ran his 2002 campaign. And his longtime aide Kyle Simmons ran his 1996. And Stephen Law — an aide who later became chief of staff for McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao — ran McConnell’s first re-election campaign in 1990.

Four years ago, McConnell hired Justin Brasell. While Brasell wasn’t a McConnell aide, he had run Kentucky Congressman Geoff Davis’ successful campaigns in 2004 and 2006, and McConnell picked him on the recommendation of former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman.

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