What Jesse Benton's departure means for McConnell's campaign & the possible attacks to come

08/30/2014 02:47 PM

UPDATED: With the resignation of McConnell’s campaign manager Jesse Benton amid a growing Iowa bribery scandal Democrats and Republicans are seeking to make their case for why it does or does not matter in Kentucky.

Benton has been acting as McConnell’s campaign manager since September of 2012 and at stake for Benton is his role in the bribery of former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson — who has plead guilty to receiving thousands for switching his support from Michelle Bachmann to Ron Paul in the early primary state’s 2012 presidential election.

In December of 2011 the Associated Press reported the affiliation twist and Bachmann’s claims of wrong-doing.

“Kent said to me yesterday that `everyone sells out in Iowa, why shouldn’t I,’” Bachmann said in a written statement. “Then he told me he would stay with our campaign. The Ron Paul campaign has to answer for its actions.”

Paul campaign chairman Jesse Benton said the campaign was not paying Sorenson and that he was puzzled why Bachmann would make such a claim against an elected official popular with Iowa conservatives.

“We’ve always known Michele to be an honorable person. She should stop slandering an honorable Iowa state senator,” Benton said.

Benton said Paul campaign officials had been begun speaking to Sorenson “in earnest” in the last few days, and that he had informed the campaign Wednesday he was ready to sign on.

Benton, who is married to the granddaughter of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, served as the elder Paul’s political director during his last presidential race and took over Rand Paul’s campaign for U.S. Senate in 2010.

In August 6, 2013 MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was one of the first to report that it was Benton who signed emails to Sorensen offering the payments.

“The guy who was allegedly involved in negotiating that behind-the-scenes payoff deal on behalf of Ron Paul, the guy whose name is all over these e-mails, is Ron Paul`s presidential campaign chairman at the time, Jesse Benton, who’s no longer with Ron Paul,” Maddow said.

The Iowa Republican published a recorded phone conversation tying Benton to Sorenson in August of 2013.

In Kentucky the Grimes campaign is calling on U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell to give his version of what he knew in reference to Benton and Sorensen.

“Senator McConnell owes the people of Kentucky a full account of what he knew and when he knew it,” Grimes spokeswoman Charly Norton said.

Democrats see an opening for Grimes in Benton’s departure

Former Democratic Congressman Mike Ward said the departure of Benton is a “huge deal.”

“You have to wonder what he’s done for McConnell,” Ward said. “Who McConnell chooses says a lot about the tactics he sees are appropriate.”

Ward pointed back the whack-a-mole statements McConnell made about the primary and general election contenders, the audio of which was released by Mother Jones after a secret recording at McConnell’s campaign headquarters.

“This is the Whack-A-Mole period of the campaign…when anybody sticks their head up, do them out, and we’re even planning to do it with the Courier here shortly…” McConnell said at the time.

Ward said it further illustrates that “McConnell will do anything to win. Including hiring people with things like that in their past.”

Danny Briscoe, a Louisville-based consultant said the impact on the race “really depends if (Benton) gets in trouble.”

Kentucky Democratic Party Chair, Dan Logsdon said McConnell should be more careful of the company he keeps.

“I know that there are people working in politics who aren’t angels but this guy is accused of bribing a state senator to try and win the White House,” Logsdon said. “Mitch McConnell fancies himself an insider who knows it all. Guess he didn’t know what any Kentuckian can tell you – you lie down with dogs you’re gonna get some fleas on you.”

GOP insider says little impact in decision

Former McConnell campaign aide and Senior Adviser to Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a pro-McConnell super PAC, said the change in behind the scenes leadership does not “mean anything.”

“Voters don’t care who the staffers are on campaigns, and it seems to me that McConnell’s core message — which he has had since the beginning — is creating some space between his campaign and Grimes’s,” Jennings said.

Jennings said that Benton did the right thing for McConnell’s campaign by stepping down.

“Benton did the honorable thing by resigning, which takes the issue — which has nothing to do with McConnell in any way, shape or form — completely off the table,” Jennings said.

What’s next?

As for what happens next Manu Raju, a senior congressional reporter for Politico, says that things probably won’t change internally for McConnell.

“Josh Holmes was seen as the key decision maker and Jesse’s role had become more focused on grassroots tactics and conservative outreach, which was even more critical during the primary,” Raju told Pure Politics.

Holmes had already been making the statewide circuit with McConnell in the months after the GOP primary election.

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@charter.com.

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