Through the looking glass: Mitch McConnell and the tea party

07/22/2013 12:41 PM

More than a dozen Kentucky tea party groups are ramping up their offensive against Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in advance of Matt Bevin’s candidacy announcement Wednesday and are calling on two national groups to rescind their endorsements of McConnell.

The United Kentucky Tea Party, a coalition of 14 tea party groups from around the state, issued an open letter to Tea and Tea Party Nation chastising them for “your lack of research and poor judgement” in backing McConnell.

“Senator McConnell’s Progressive Liberal voting record, his absolute iron fisted rule over the Republican Party in Kentucky and his willingness to roll over and cede power to President Obama and the Liberals in Washington, prove that he is no friend to the American people or the citizens of the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” said the letter, sent by Scott Hofstra, on behalf of United Kentucky Tea Party.

Tea, which was one of the groups targeted by the IRS, threw its support to McConnell in May, as Politico’s Manu Raju reported .

And Tuesday evening in Washington, McConnell will meet with the Tea activists as well as the congressional tea party caucus at a meeting at the U.S. Capitol. McConnell even booked the room for the group, said Jesse Benton, McConnell’s campaign manager.

“We’re proud of our friendship with them. They’re doing some wonderful work,” Benton said of Tea McConnell “is a conservative too. He helps as a conduit. He helps as a, quote, ‘moderate Republican’ to deliver the message that they share a lot of beliefs.”

Benton, who ran U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s campaign in 2010, said he has been reaching out to activists at tea party meetings across the state and that McConnell has strong support among many of them.

“One of the great things about the tea party movement is that it’s so decentralized. There’s no king or queen, or president or executive director of the tea party. So it’s not always going to be united one way or the other,” Benton said. “It means they can’t crack a whip and say everyone who identifies themselves as tea party should support Mitch. And we wouldn’t want it that way.”

Benton pointed to an estimate by Patrick O’Connor of the Wall Street Journal that the groups making up the United Kentucky Tea Party have a total of about 1,000 members.

Among the objections to McConnell that the United Kentucky Tea Party group has raised are his votes for the bank bailout in 2008, raising the debt ceiling during President George W. Bush’s time in office and various spending bills, as well as No Child Left Behind. The group’s letter also cites the deal McConnell helped forge with Vice President Joe Biden to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff of tax increases and deep spending cuts in December.

While Benton said those activists are “certainly entitled to their opinion,” he said they’re missing the bigger picture.

“Senator McConnell has a record where he has been a key linchpin in getting the Senate and the United States Congress the most conservative solution they could possibly get,” Benton said.

Terry Donoghue, a member of the Northern Kentucky Tea Party from Independence told Pure Politics that he’s supporting Bevin. And he’s aware of criticism from some Republicans that Bevin’s candidacy won’t be helpful to McConnell.

When asked if he would prefer McConnell to a Democratic senator, Donoghue said it wouldn’t matter if that Democrat embraced fiscal conservative policies.

“We are not a political organization. We are not partisan. All we are concerned about is Sen. McConnell’s voting record,” Donoghue said. He said he didn’t know enough about the policies of Alison Lundergan Grimes, the secretary of state and frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.

But Donoghue said McConnell’s time in Congress has expired.

‘When you look up ‘career politician’ in the dictionary, his picture is right there — him and (John) McCain both,” Donoghue said. “It’s time for Senator McConnell to move on.”

But one key voice from the tea party won’t be joining Bevin and the United Kentucky Tea Party.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul reiterated to reporters Monday that he doesn’t plan to help Bevin and will continue to stand with McConnell.

Here’s what Paul told reporters Monday:

Donoghue acknowledged that national fundraising will be more difficult without the explicit help of Paul’s network. But he said enough tea party activists around the country have similar distrust of and frustration with McConnell.

“We hope he will come around,” Donoghue said of Paul.


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