McConnell challenger criticizes GOP Senate leader’s ‘slash and burn’ style

Kentucky businessman Matt Bevin slammed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as a “slash and burn” politician who isn’t “man enough to stand on his record” in the state’s upcoming Republican Senate primary.

The race got off to a nasty start as Bevin made his run official on Wednesday.

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McConnell launched an ad that labels his opponent “Bailout Bevin” because Bevin’s family-owned, Connecticut-based bell-making company received a government grant to help rebuild after a fire.

The ad also hammered the Tea Party candidate over a number of tax liens assessed against the company.

Bevin said Wednesday the attacks were beneath a Republican Senate leader.

“It’s insulting to the office of a U.S. senator to demean himself in this fashion, and I am challenging him to be man enough to stand on his record, to stand up as an elected official and talk with me … about the issues that matter to them, not issues that are going to be bought by smearing or making cute little videos,” Bevin said in an interview with The Hill.

Bevin spoke over the phone from a vehicle traveling between campaign stops in Kentucky. The campaign entourage included Bevin’s nine children.

McConnell’s attacks fulfilled his campaign’s promise to unleash a “welcome wagon” of opposition research on Bevin when he launched his campaign.

Bevin, an Army veteran and investment firm executive, said he wasn’t surprised McConnell came out swinging, declaring that attacking is “all he knows how to do.”

“He doesn’t know how to actually represent what it is we need him to represent in Washington. All he knows how to do is slash and burn,” he said.

Bevin released his own ad on the first day of his campaign. It targets McConnell, who is seeking a sixth Senate term, for supporting the 2008 Wall Street bailout and a previous immigration overhaul.

“This race is the embodiment of what the people in this country are fed up with. They’re fed up with leaders who go to Washington and disregard their interest and saddle their future generations with burdens the likes of which they’re not likely to even be able to pay off,” he said.

Though McConnell’s campaign has dismissed its new opponent as a “nuisance” candidate, Bevin noted supporters of McConnell were concerned enough about his entry into the race to try and keep him out of it.

“There have been, in recent months, a number of phone calls, emails, texts, meetings with both me and people who are working close to me [from people] who have attempted to provide alternative paths for my future, and I think they were, at the time, intended to a) flatter, b) impress, c) scare,” he said.

McConnell’s campaign has said no one associated with it reached out to Bevin to urge him to stay out of the race.

McConnell remains the heavy favorite in the Republican primary despite polling showing him with low job approval ratings in Kentucky.

He’s amassed nearly $10 million in campaign cash and a significant team staffed with seasoned political veterans.

He’s also taken steps to shore up support from his right flank, nabbing the endorsement of Tea Party favorite Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and one national Tea Party group.

Bevin said the idea that McConnell had Tea Party support was “a myth,” and the welcome he received from several national conservative groups on Wednesday seems to support that assertion.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, the Club for Growth and the Madison Project all said they would look at endorsing Bevin.

“We’re open to supporting Matt Bevin’s campaign and will be waiting to see if the grassroots in Kentucky unite behind him. The only way to defeat Mitch McConnell is to inspire the grassroots to rise up and fight for their freedoms,” Senate Conservatives Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins said in a statement. 

“We will also be watching to see if Mitch McConnell debates the issues, or if he conducts a dirty smear campaign. If McConnell doesn’t respect the voters enough to defend his own record, he doesn’t deserve to be in the Senate,” Hoskins added.

The Club for Growth confirmed it has met with Bevin about a possible endorsement.

“We’d like to hear more about his candidacy and the differences between him and Senator McConnell on the issues,” Chris Chocola, the group’s president, said in a statement.

Joining the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth, the Madison Project hammered McConnell for his early attack ad on Bevin in a statement characterizing the offense as “the scorched earth politics of personal destruction.”

McConnell’s ad refers to the $200,000 in state grants Bevin obtained to help his family’s bell-making company rebuild after a 2012 fire, as well as a number of tax liens the company was assessed for failing to pay $116,000 in taxes.

An official for Bevin said that he hadn’t taken over complete control of the company until August 2011, after which he paid off the back taxes and personally loaned the company $1 million to help do so. The official also said that Bevin had paid back most of the state grants.

“It’s great to see Senator McConnell suddenly concerned about taxes and bailouts, especially when he has voted for every federal bailout under the sun,” Drew Ryun, head of the Madison Project, said in a statement.

Ryun defended Bevin as someone “who paid back all the taxes owed on his uncle’s business with his personal wealth and put his own fortune on the line to save a cherished eight-generation business that burned to the ground overnight.”

Even as national conservative groups put McConnell on notice, a coalition of 15 Kentucky Tea Party groups endorsed Bevin outright.

“It is time to send a true conservative Kentucky Senator to Washington,” the United Kentucky Tea Party said in a statement.