Conservative group targeting McConnell in Kentucky over fiscal-cliff deal

A conservative group has begun running online ads in Kentucky targeting Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (Ky.), who is up for reelection in 2014, because of the “fiscal-cliff” deal he brokered.

Brent Bozell, the chairman of ForAmerica, which reports an online membership of 3 million, has launched one of the first ads of the 2014 cycle on conservative websites in Kentucky. The group says it is a five-figure buy.

The ad, titled “Whose Side Are You On,” asks conservatives to sign a petition letting Republican lawmakers know they will be held accountable if they vote for legislation to further increase taxes.

“As negotiations over the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ were intensifying, conservatives called on McConnell and congressional Republicans to hold the line on tax rates and demand cuts to spending, as they had promised,” the petition states. “But when the deadline was looming, McConnell called Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenDemocrats will need to explain if they shut government down over illegal immigration Trump thinks he could easily beat Sanders in 2020 match-up: report Biden marks MLK Day: Americans are 'living through a battle for the soul of this nation' MORE and signed off on a deal with the White House that included tax increases and virtually no spending cuts.”

Bozell said in an interview that he “wouldn’t be surprised” if McConnell faced a conservative challenger in the 2014 Kentucky Republican primary.

As of now, McConnell does not have an opponent.

McConnell hired Jesse Benton, who ran Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Fix what we’ve got and make Medicare right this year Despite amnesty, DACA bill favors American wage-earners MORE’s (R-Ky.) 2010 victory, in September to head his reelection campaign.

A McConnell aide said Paul is McConnell’s biggest surrogate in the state and his help could quell the possibility of a Tea Party-backed primary challenge.

McConnell forged an eleventh-hour deal with Biden shortly before the fiscal-cliff New Year’s Eve deadline to extend the Bush-era income tax rates on family income below $450,000. But it allowed tax rates on family income above that threshold to go up.

The deal also allowed capital gains tax rates for high-income households to return to Clinton-era levels and raised the estate tax from 35 percent to 40 on inheritances over $5 million.

Democrats wanted to boost the estate tax to 45 percent and lower the exemption to $3.5 million. 

Bozell said deal was a mistake.

“If Republicans had the faith of their alleged convictions, they would have boldly supported legislation giving everyone a tax cut and would have openly, unapologetically, and unequivocally challenged Reid and Obama to support it,” he said. “If not, then the Republicans should have walked away and let the Democrats own the ensuing mess, including the tax increase.”

Bozell’s group has otherwise rated McConnell’s record highly.

ForAmerica gave the GOP leader an average score of 95 percent on its Freedom Meter for the years 2009 through 2012.

Bozell said he and other conservatives will be watching closely how McConnell and Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems face hard choice for State of the Union response Even some conservatives seem open to return to earmarks Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism MORE (R-Ohio) handle negotiations with the administration to raise the debt ceiling.

“There are serious votes coming up in the short term, like the debt limit and the CR. Does he move the ball forward, toward fiscal sanity and limited government, or is it more of the same retreat, retreat, retreat,” he said.

"In short, is this leadership committed to freedom and prosperity, or is it Democrat Lite? If it's the former, we'll do everything possible to help. If it's the latter, we'll treat them like Democrats," Bozell added. 

— Updated at 11:50 a.m. and 5:54 p.m.