NSA vote will keep McConnell from this weekend's RPK dinner as Bevin works on behind-the-scenes support

05/26/2015 07:02 PM

ELIZABETHTOWN — One was meeting with Republican lawmakers to solidify support for a gubernatorial campaign on Tuesday despite listing the Hardin County Rotary Club’s meeting on his official schedule.

The other, who spoke to about 120 Rotarians at Tuesday’s luncheon, will skip the Republican Party of Kentucky’s Lincoln Day Dinner this weekend in hopes of extending the National Security Agency’s bulk-data collection program in a rare Sunday vote.

Regardless of their itineraries, both U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Louisville investment manager Matt Bevin will play key roles in stitching together any burst seams within the state GOP in the coming days if Bevin’s slim 83-vote victory over Agriculture Commissioner James Comer stands after Thursday’s recanvass.

McConnell, who beat Bevin by nearly 25 points in last year’s Senate primary, twice reiterated his support for the GOP gubernatorial nominee regardless of the recanvass’ result.

“Look, I think all of this is yet to be determined,” McConnell told reporters when asked whether Republicans can unite behind Bevin’s candidacy. “I have no reason to expect the party won’t be unified, and we’ll find out as we move forward.”

McConnell, in explaining his absence from this weekend’s Lincoln Day festivities, says he needs to travel back to Washington, D.C., on Saturday to prepare for the next day’s last-ditch efforts to extend the NSA’s collection of bulk phone data, an issue on which he and fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul disagree.

“It’s a very big issue,” McConnell said. “If I were not the majority leader of the Senate, you know, I could probably wait until Sunday to go back, but I’m responsible for the schedule, I’m responsible for the Sunday session, and so nothing should be read into that (the absence from Saturday’s dinner) in terms of my interest in the governor’s race or any other race this fall.”

Bevin, for his part, is making overtures to Republican lawmakers who did not support his candidacy. Ben Hartman, Bevin’s campaign manager, said Bevin did not attend Tuesday’s Rotary club meeting in Elizabethtown because of scheduled meetings with state legislators, many of whom backed Comer’s gubernatorial bid.

Tom Cooper, the Rotary club’s program director, told Pure Politics Bevin was not slated to speak given the lunch event’s tight schedule and others who sought the governorship this year were also invited to attend, although none did.

Bevin, who won about 44 percent of the 1,469 votes cast in Hardin County in the primary, kept his meetings with lawmakers as part of his effort to unify the GOP as the party’s unofficial nominee against Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway and to set a clear policy vision if his gubernatorial bid is successful, Hartman said.

“We’ve been meeting with a lot of them over the last couple days and we continue to do that,” Hartman said in a phone interview with Pure Politics. “Throughout this campaign up to this point and going forward, Matt’s proposed a very specific policy proposal. We’re going to campaign on those, but if Matt’s elected governor he wants to see them enacted into law.”

Hartman said Bevin’s conversations with state lawmakers have been “very positive,” though he said prudency will limit public pledges of support given Comer’s recanvass request.

“A number of legislators have reached out just in general terms to be supportive of the ticket and express their desire to work towards not only victory in November, but toward being an administration that can govern the way we want to govern if elected,” Hartman said.

Comer will not have long to ponder the results of Thursday’s recanvass as candidates must request recounts by Friday, 10 days after the primary. Such a request to Franklin Circuit Court, whose decision could be appealed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, would further delay the official GOP nomination.

State Reps. Russell Webber and Jim DuPlessis, Comer campaign supporters who attended the Hardin County Rotary Club meeting, say they believe Republicans can unite behind Bevin if his victory is confirmed Thursday.

And even if Comer decides to request a recount after this week’s recanvass, Webber and DuPlessis say they don’t believe that will give Conway much of an edge heading into the Nov. 3 election.

“As long as this primary process drags on for the Republican Party, an uncertainty would remain over a nominee,” said Webber, R-Shepherdsville. “That certainly gives the attorney general a bit of an advantage heading into the general election, but I think we have folks on all sides of the Republican primary candidates ready to come together, so I think you’ll see the state Republican Party consolidating quickly behind the nominee and moving forward.”

DuPlessis, who said he would not fault Comer for requesting a recount given the amount of money and effort invested in the agriculture commissioner’s campaign, saw one positive to challenging the primary results in court: media exposure.

“It keeps the Republican guys in the news; it keeps their names out there,” said DuPlessis, R-Elizabethtown. “Mr. Conway is sitting back and he’s maybe enjoying the squabble, but you know the old adage, sometimes bad news in the public’s eye because it keeps you out.”

Despite the Bevin campaign’s explanation of a scheduling conflict, the Democratic Governors Association took Bevin’s absence Tuesday as evidence of a disjointed GOP.

“Today’s bizarre turn of events shows that Matt Bevin will struggle to unite the Republican Party in Kentucky,” DGA spokesman Jared Leopold said in a statement. “It’s becoming clear to Kentucky voters that these claims of party unity are yet another work of fiction by Matt Bevin.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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