McConnell foe: Don't label me Tea Party

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Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) primary challenger insisted on Thursday that he's not a Tea Party candidate — despite the fact that he enjoys enthusiastic support from some members of the conservative movement. 

Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Matt Bevin, whose campaign to unseat the Senate majority leader has drawn endorsements from several state and national Tea Party groups, on Thursday disavowed connections to the grassroots conservative movement. 

In an in appearance on MSNBC, Bevin said he neither considers himself a member of the Tea Party nor has he ever attended any Tea Party meetings.

"I'm a Republican, I'm running in a Republican primary," Bevin said, adding: "I've never been a member of a Tea Party."

"I never went to any Tea Party meetings, although I am fiscally very much in like mind and grateful for and appreciative of the support of anybody, no matter what group they might be part of."

The United Kentucky Tea Party, made up of nearly 20 state Tea Parties, endorsed Bevin soon after he announced he would challenge McConnell in the Republican primary. 

Despite Bevin's comments, spokesman Scott Hofstra said he wasn't surprised by the remarks, and indicated his group wouldn't withdraw its support. Hofstra said he believed Bevin's decision to distance himself from the Tea Party was a strategic one.

"It doesn't come as a surprise at all. It was something that we talked about when we decided to support Matt," Hofstra told The Hill. "He's trying to appeal to a broader base than just Tea Party voters."

Hofstra suggested that if Bevin is "pigeonholed" as the Tea Party candidate, some Republican primary voters might not consider voting for him because of the negative connotation an affiliation to the movement may carry.

Though Bevin has gained some traction among Tea Party groups locally, a number of national conservative groups have yet to weigh in on the race, and McConnell is still heavily favored to win his primary. 

He released internal polling last month that gave him more than triple Bevin's support among Republican primary voters, and has worked to shore up his right flank. McConnell has been endorsed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a Tea Party favorite.