Last updated: July 25. 2013 1:31PM - 7313 Views
By Ralph Davis

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PIKEVILLE — Two days after officially filing to run for office, the Tea Party challenger to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell will meet voters during a stop in Pikeville.

Matt Bevin, a businessman, Army veteran and father of nine who was courted to run for Senate by Tea Party activists in Louisville, filed paperwork Wednesday to challenge McConnell and immediately began running campaign ads on television and the Internet. The ads portray Bevin as a true conservative, compared to McConnell, who the challenger’s campaign accuses of voting for “higher taxes, bailouts, debt ceiling increases, congressional pay raises, and liberal judges.”

McConnell has wasted no time in countering Bevin, releasing his own ad labeling the challenger as “Bailout Bevin” and accusing Bevin’s companies of accepting $200,000 in bailouts, while at the same time not paying taxes. The bailout to which the McConnell camp is referring includes a $100,000 grant from the state of Connecticut to help rebuild an iconic bell factory owned by the Bevin family, after a fire destroyed business last year.

“Matthew Griswold Bevin is not a Kentucky conservative, he is merely an East Coast con man,” McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said Friday. “While it is sad to see someone who claims to be a Republican doing Barack Obama’s bidding, his campaign is nothing more than a nuisance. Mitch McConnell will never waiver in his fight for our Kentucky values.”

But Bevin picked up some unlikely support following McConnell’s charges. Jonathan Hurst, a campaign advisor to Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for McConnell’s seat, said the attacks from the senator’s campaign show why he should not be re-elected.

“The people of Kentucky are frustrated by Mitch McConnell’s lack of leadership, so it should be no surprise that he’s turned to bullying members of his own party,” Hurst said in a prepared statement released by the Grimes campaign. “This is simply the latest in McConnell’s political games and demonstrates just how out of touch he is with Kentucky families.”

But Hurst also seized the opportunity to make a pitch for his own candidate: “Meanwhile, all across the Commonwealth, Kentuckians are uniting around our campaign because they recognize Alison will stand up for Kentucky.”

For his part, Bevin said the McConnell attacks were misleading and mud-slinging.

“The 2014 U.S. Senate race has barely begun and already it’s the same old Mitch McConnell with nothing but smear tactics and misleading the public about his opponents,” Bevin said in a press release.

Bevin will make his first Eastern Kentucky campaign stop Friday, in Pikeville, before heading to Somerset later in the day. He will appear at the Landmark Inn at 10:30 a.m. for a “meet-and-greet town hall and press conference.” The event is open to the public and a continental breakfast will be served.

For now, Bevin’s campaign faces an uphill climb in the race. A poll released Thursday by Wenzel Strategies, out of Columbus, Ohio, shows McConnell with a firm early lead over Bevin, 58.9 percent to 19.9 percent. The poll also shows McConnell having a tougher time in a general election matchup with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who officially filed her candidacy July 16.

However, Bevin, a successful hedge fund manager who can draw from his own wealth to finance his campaign, could get some high-powered help. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that two influential conservative political action committees — the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth — are open to supporting Bevin, but are taking a wait-and-see approach to determine if he has a legitimate shot at knocking off the five-term Senate majority leader.

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