The Chatter: Group hoping for Supreme Court confirmation hearings launches Ky. effort; Jesse Benton joins pro-Trump super PAC

03/12/2016 03:52 PM

As U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republican conference promise to deny confirmation hearings for any Supreme Court appointees recommended by President Barack Obama, an organization hoping to pressure senators into reconsidering their blockade has set stakes in Kentucky.

Americans United for Change, a left-leaning advocacy group, has tasked Democratic operatives Matt Erwin and Jared Smith with organizing the state ahead of an Obama nomination as reports indicate the president has identified finalists to possibly replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died at age 79 in February.

Smith will handle Lexington and eastern Kentucky while Erwin will work in Louisville and the rest of the state, they told reporters on a conference call Friday. They were joined on the call by Democratic Louisville Metro Councilman David Tandy and Adrian Wallace, a Lexington pastor and vice president of the city’s NAACP chapter.

The group is part of a broader national effort by American United for Change, and Erwin said the Kentucky branch is in its “infancy” after he and Smith signed on this week.

“We’ll have Republicans, we’ll have Democrats, we’ll have independents on this to make sure that this is a topic that does not go away, does not get lost in the noise of an election cycle,” Erwin said when asked about the prospects of GOP support. “With anything, it’ll become more paramount. This is a big fight.”

The group is hoping to tap into animosity against the Senate’s pledge to allow the next president to nominate Scalia’s replacement on the high court.

They noted that a survey of 1,200 registered voters released Tuesday showed that 55 percent oppose the Senate’s hard line against an Obama appointment. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found a distinct partisan split on the subject, with 69 percent of Republicans backing the Senate’s strategy versus 79 percent who disapprove.

Wallace said he has discussed organizing the state NAACP on the issue with Raoul Cunningham, president of the Kentucky State Conference of the NAACP.

“A lot of folks have reached out to us as they are worried about the obstructionism,” Wallace said on Friday’s conference call.

It’s unclear at this point how much the group will ultimately invest in taking on McConnell in his home state. Erwin said the organization plans to utilize “every tool in the toolbox” to generate grassroots support, and Smith predicted that they will have ample resources as they move forward.

“I don’t think money will be too much of an issue,” Smith said on the call. “There’s a lot of movement and a lot of support nationwide for this project that we’re doing.”

Former Paul, McConnell aide Benton joins pro-Trump super PAC

Jesse Benton, who has managed campaigns for McConnell and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, has been named chief strategist of the pro-Donald Trump Great America PAC, Politico reported Friday.

“There is a growing movement behind Donald Trump, bringing new voters to the GOP in an unprecedented way,” Benton told Politico in an email. “Great America PAC will help grow and harness that movement, unify Republicans and work to win not just the White House, but to also lengthen Mr. Trump’s coattails in races across the America.”

The New York real estate mogul currently leads to Republican presidential field with 459 delegates to Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s 360, Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s 152 and Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s 54.

Benton last worked for America’s Liberty, a super PAC supporting Paul’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination until he was indicted on conspiracy charges stemming from an alleged plot to pay former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson to back Paul’s father’s presidential campaign in 2012.

All but one charge against Benton were dismissed before his October trial, and a jury acquitted him of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Benton and another former Rand Paul aide, John Tate, were re-indicted by a federal grand jury alongside former Ron Paul campaign staffer Dimitrios Kensari the next month.

Benton and his co-defendants are looking to have the new charges against them dismissed.

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 or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.


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