Seeing more at stake, some Ky. tea parties don't want just anyone to challenge McConnell

01/25/2013 05:36 PM

Individual Kentucky tea party leaders are trying to walk a tight rope when it comes to opposing U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in his 2014 bid for re-election.

Most aren’t wild about McConnell. But some aren’t willing to back just any candidate against him because there’s more at stake than just an election.

Kentucky newspapers the Hearld-Leader , Courier-Journal and national publications ran stories this week about 12 Kentucky tea party organizations uniting to oppose McConnell in the Republican primary. But not all of the state’s most active tea party groups took part in it.

The Louisville Tea Party, which is led by Sarah Durand, did not sign on to the list of groups who would oppose McConnell. But Durand said she is taking part in the discussion amongst tea party leaders.

“We have to have ‘the’ candidate,” Durand said. “That person has not stepped up.”

Durand said a few people have expressed interest, but no one has committed to running. The tea party president said she’s not willing to endorse any candidate to take on McConnell before she knows that person can beat the veteran lawmaker.

Tea party groups without a credible challenger to McConnell could pose a threat to the tea party brand, soften McConnell for a Democratic challenger (see 2012 Indiana U.S. Senate race), and deplete resources.

If the group does find a suitable candidate, Durand said Democratic groups like the Progress Kentucky Super PAC have promised to support their candidate to oust McConnell. Democrats would like nothing more than for a Republican primary to soften up McConnell for a Democratic challenger, although that party is having the same troubles as the tea party in finding strong candidates.

In a mid-January interview, Jesse Benton, the campaign manager for Mitch McConnell’s 2014 run, told Pure Politics the campaign is remaining vigilant to tamp down intra-party frustration that could lead to a primary challenger.

“We’re making sure that we keep talking to conservatives, tea party people – liberty folks, letting them know McConnell believes in what they’re doing. He appreciates their friendship, appreciates their leadership, and is giving a real ear to their issues and concerns,” Benton said in a January 16th interview with Pure Politics.

One name circulating as a potential challenger is John Kemper, who is the spokesperson for the United Tea Party of Kentucky — one of the groups that has signed on to find a challenger to oust McConnell.

Kemper, a former candidate for state auditor in 2011, said he hopes whomever steps forward can self fund, have name recognition, has campaign experience and an exterior shell as tough as nails.

“My preference is not to run but to find a candidate who has the four attributes that I talked about,” Kemper said in a phone interview.

Durand said the group would need to pick a candidate by April to challenge McConnell and while he has money she said they have something he can’t raise — “enthusiasm.”

“McConnell can raise a lot of money, his problem is with raising enthusiasm,” Durand said.

So far only one Kentuckian has announced an intent to challenge McConnell — Democrat Ed Marksberry y, an Owensboro contractor who ran a limited and unsuccessful campaign for the 2nd Congressional District in 2010.

National political outlets are mentioning the possibility of Ashley Judd challenging McConnell, but as The Hill reported, not all Kentucky Democrats have warmed to the idea of the actress running. And until a top tier candidate actually runs how Kentuckians will react is only speculation.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@twcnews.com.

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