Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, facing re-election fights next year from a Tea Party primary challenger and a Democrat running close in early polls, was the subject of derisive comments by his own campaign manager, according to an audiotape that surfaced Thursday.
Jesse Benton, who joined McConnell’s campaign last summer, privately told a conservative activist that he was suffering through the job in order to benefit Rand Paul’s expected presidential run in 2016. “Between you and me, I’m sort of holding my nose for two years because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in ’16. So that’s my long vision,” Benton told a conservative activist in a private phone call. The recording, first published by EconomicPolicyJournal.com, was made in January, according to the website.
Benton, who is married to Rand Paul’s niece, was a top campaign aide in Rand’s 2010 Senate bid and both of Ron Paul’s recent presidential runs. His move from the Paul camp to McConnell’s left some conservative activists scratching their heads because of the two senators’ divergent political philosophies. But since Paul arrived in the Senate, the gentlemen from Kentucky have nurtured a symbiotic partnership that gives Paul establishment credibility while shoring up McConnell’s bona fides among the Tea Party base.
Benton’s remark is a blow to McConnell, who is facing enemy fire from right and left. On the right, Matt Bevin, McConnell’s GOP primary challenger, is busy slamming the Bluegrass senator as insufficiently conservative. Bevin quickly seized on the remark. “Even Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager thinks Sen. McConnell isn’t conservative,” he tweeted. On the left, likely Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s Secretary of State, is running within the margin of error in early polls. The Cook Political Report recently classified the race as a “toss up.”
“It is truly sick that someone would record a private phone conversation I had out of kindness and use it to try to hurt me,” Benton said in a statement released by the McConnell campaign. “I believe in Senator McConnell and am 100 percent committed to his re-election. Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honors of my life and I look forward to victory in November of 2014.”