Benton: Comments 'hurt' McConnell

An aide who said he was holding his nose while managing Sen. Mitch McConnell's campaign acknowledged his comments "hurt" the Senate minority leader. 

"He wasn't angry, he wasn't upset, but I could see the hurt in his eyes," McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton said in an interview released Monday with WHAS-11.  

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"He asked me how I could say something like that, and I just didn't have a good answer," said Benton, a former campaign manager for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). "I apologized from the bottom of my heart and I told him it's not what I believe and that I am here because I believe in him."

Benton has long had close ties to Paul's political dynasty, having worked for both the senator and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Rand's father. 

His move to Team McConnell raised eyebrows given tensions between Tea Party Republicans and the Senate minority leader, but it was also seen as something that could benefit both Kentucky senators.

In fact, Benton told WHAS-11 that McConnell's reelection team could help a 2016 Rand Paul White House bid.

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"There is going to be a substantial part of 'Team Mitch' that, God willing, will go and fuse with 'Team Paul,' who already has a great team in place," Benton said. "And I think will just make a tremendous campaign operation."

Party leaders typically don't endorse a candidate in a GOP primary, but Benton said McConnell could lend legitimacy to Paul with the GOP "intelligentsia" in a presidential race.

"I know that Sen. McConnell is very comfortable putting his hand on Rand's shoulder and telling all the 'intelligentisia'  and the talking heads and the insiders who are very, very important in a presidential campaign that Rand is a real true serious player in the presidential race," Benton said.  "He should be taken seriously and he should be given the full consideration by all of those types."

Benton created waves last week when a private phone conversation went public in which he said he would be "sorta holding my nose for two years" while working for McConnell.

McConnell primary challenger, Matt Bevin, pounced on the comments, saying they showed "even McConnell's top guy realizes that his boss is not a true conservative."

"I'm not sure quite why I said it," Benton told the television station. "[I was] talking to a hard-core Ron Paul supporter that — I guess they don't quite understand what we're trying to build here.

"It was just so dumb," Benton continued. "I don't feel that way at all. Being asked to manage Senator McConnell's campaign is one of the great honors of my life, and I believe in the man very much."

— Updated at 9:22 a.m.