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

01/25/2013 06:36 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 joined cn|2 in December 2011 as a reporter for Pure Politics. Throughout his career, Nick has covered several big political stories up close, including interviewing President Barack Obama on the campaign trail back in 2008. Nick says he loves being at the forefront of Kentucky politics and working with the brightest journalists in the commonwealth. Follow Nick on Twitter @Nick_Storm. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or



  • viewer wrote on January 25, 2013 08:06 PM :

    2 things tea party done wrong that made them jokes. 1} They paid Dick Armey, Wall Street money to leave , and exposed their records , which showed K street involvement. 2] They were no where in site on debt limit last week. They knew the old people out in force were going to be hurt and backed off before they clued in to what they were marching against. They are done now , only to be played as fool by media. Which is part true. A lot of snake oil salesmanship was seen with the documents that were brought out. Tea party is exposed. Nothing here , move along friends.

  • viewer wrote on January 26, 2013 09:04 AM :

    IMO if the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street crowds meet in the middle , we could have something special. Both make good points, but both are out there too. Split the difference and change will occur.

  • cumberland gap wrote on January 26, 2013 10:20 AM :

    People notice when tea party talks out of both sides of mouth better than any politician. Massie gets elected on simple platform of limited govt and less spending but desperately wants wants billion dollar bridge for his district!

  • waybert17 wrote on January 26, 2013 11:52 PM :

    To be viable, and important, in elections, the tea party needs to participate in all elections. They cannot sit out elections, as they did in 2012, and not expect such actions to put them in a bad light with people who are truly interested in electing candidates who are going to fix the federal deficit. Sitting on the sidelines, as they did last year, only helps the Big Government & Big Spender candidates for office. Plus, when your candidate fails to win the primary election, then, if you are really interested in the deficit spending problem, tea party supporters are still needed to vote in the general elections. Why sit at home and let the other side, the side that opposes everything you support, to win elections by your absence?

  • viewer wrote on January 27, 2013 10:32 AM :

    If the state and federal government cant come together to work out a plan for the bridge up there, we dont have a functional government. If Mitch and John cant get it done. Leadership is worth nothing in Washington.

  • Jerry wrote on January 29, 2013 09:27 AM :

    Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Richard Mourdock,and Christine O’Donnell… enough said. These are just some examples of how the Tea Party (RINO) has produced some weak candidates and have cost the GOP Senate seats.

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