McConnell challenger nabs big endorsement

Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) primary challenger got a boost Friday with the endorsement of a prominent national conservative group, the Senate Conservatives Fund. But one other national conservative group, the Club for Growth, praised McConnell shortly after SCF jumped into the race — a possible indication conservatives may have some reservations about his ability to compete in a general election.

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The endorsement of Matt Bevin comes just days after the fund blasted McConnell for his role in working toward a deal to end the government shutdown, charging in an email to supporters Tuesday that he was "leading the surrender" of the GOP.

In the endorsement, Senate Conservatives Fund (SCF) Executive Director Matt Hoskins conceded that Bevin has an uphill climb in unseating McConnell, but said the group is "confident" he can win.

"Matt Bevin is a true conservative who will fight to stop the massive spending, bailouts, and debt that are destroying our country. He is not afraid to stand up to the establishment and he will do what it takes to stop Obamacare," Hoskins said.

He added: "We know that winning this primary won't be easy. Mitch McConnell has the support of the entire Washington establishment and he will do anything to hold on to power. But if people in Kentucky and all across the country rise up and demand something better, we're confident Matt Bevin can win this race."

Bevin has significantly lagged McConnell in every poll of the race, and brought in only $222,000 in outside donations this past quarter, compared to $2.27 million for McConnell during the same period.

Bevin contributed $600,000 of his own money to his campaign.

McConnell has dismissed SCF in the past as a self-serving group out to make a profit, and his campaign continued that line of attack after it made its endorsement of Bevin.

"Matt Bevin now has the dubious honor of standing with a self-serving DC fundraising group that made its name by recruiting and promoting unelectable candidates that ensured Barack Obama a majority in the Senate," said Allison Moore, McConnell spokeswoman. "[SCF] clearly cares less about Kentuckians than they do about their reputation for supporting laughably bad candidates. Now they can add a New England bailout recipient who claims he went to MIT to their roster of notable failures."

But the SCF endorsement is likely to help his fundraising this next quarter and raise his profile both in Kentucky and nationwide.

The fund did not indicate the level of engagement it's planning for the campaign, but it spent nearly $16 million on races last cycle, and has previously backed insurgent candidates that are now heavy-hitters in Washington, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

The Club for Growth, however, praised McConnell on Friday.

 “While we don’t always agree with Mitch McConnell, we appreciate his 84% lifetime score on the Club for Growth’s congressional scorecard, and his steadfast support for First Amendment free speech rights. We are continuing to monitor the race," CFG spokesman Barney Keller said.

McConnell has long faced the ire of conservatives, who are unhappy with his votes for the Wall Street bailout and to raise the debt ceiling, as well as what they believe is an insufficient effort to dismantle ObamaCare.

The shutdown put the senator in a tough spot over the past few weeks, as he risked playing into conservative attacks by taking a leadership role in brokering a deal to end the shutdown — which conservatives felt should have been sustained until they successfully dismantled ObamaCare.

Ultimately, McConnell emerged as a crucial player in negotiations and has defended his role in brokering a deal.

“This is the fourth time that I’ve stepped up to prevent catastrophic occurrence in our country,” McConnell told The Hill.

— Alexander Bolton contributed.