Kentucky Tea Party triumph

A year ago Sen. Mitch McConnell was basking in a convincing U.S. Senate primary victory, explaining he had "crushed the tea party" by beating political newcomer, Louisville entrepreneur, and army veteran Matt Bevin. But in a shocking 4-way gubernatorial primary, Bevin turned the tables in 2015 and is now the GOP nominee in a race against a very liberal and beatable Democrat Jack Conway; the guy Rand Paul rolled over in 2010.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Bevin hesitated to even enter the governor’s race, only filing on the last day. The big favorite going in was the young agriculture commissioner, James Comer, who had great appeal across the state among both conservative activists and elected officials. But his campaign was torpedoed by an old college girlfriend, with charges of abuse and abortion, which he denied but could not overcome.

That should have put his major rival, Hal Heiner, one of the state’s wealthiest developers, in the driver’s seat. Heiner was nearly elected Louisville mayor in 2010 and was willing to spend millions of his own dollars to become governor. Then stories started circulating that Heiner's campaign was behind the Comer charges, and a grand jury was brought in to look at threats made by a pro-Heiner blogger. It very much hurt as well that Heiner had some of the least liked politicos in Kentucky helping his campaign, and “independent” PACs supporting Heiner were insultingly ugly with their adverts. In a state where everybody knows everybody else, this all backfired and Heiner wound up finishing a distant third.

Matt Bevin, in the meantime, had improved greatly as a candidate from his rookie effort, spending his own money, over a million dollars, on a well-targeted media presentation in the final days of the contest. Enough Republican voters saw him as the only logical choice left, and he finished just ahead of Comer. This despite the fact that virtually no elected or party officials anywhere in the state supported him.

Now, the big question is can Bevin and Sen. McConnell make nice and bring the state party together after such a bruiser? I don’t see them ever becoming friendly, the way McConnell and Rand Paul have turned into such close allies. But it would be a terrible reflection on McConnell if he left Bevin hanging out to dry. TV time in most of Kentucky is pretty cheap; if Bevin can raise a few million himself and have super PACs like the RGA get involved, that’s probably all he needs to win in a state as conservative as Kentucky. If nothing else, Bevin should be getting a big check from Mark Levin!

Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, KY.

A year ago Sen. Mitch McConnell was basking in a convincing U.S. Senate primary victory, explaining he had "crushed the tea party" by beating political newcomer, Louisville entrepreneur, and army veteran Matt Bevin. But in a shocking 4-way gubernatorial primary, Bevin turned the tables in 2015 and is now the GOP nominee in a race against a very liberal and beatable Democrat Jack Conway; the guy Rand Paul rolled over in 2010.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Bevin hesitated to even enter the governor’s race, only filing on the last day. The big favorite going in was the young agriculture commissioner, James Comer, who had great appeal across the state among both conservative activists and elected officials. But his campaign was torpedoed by an old college girlfriend, with charges of abuse and abortion, which he denied but could not overcome.

That should have put his major rival, Hal Heiner, one of the state’s wealthiest developers, in the driver’s seat. Heiner was nearly elected Louisville mayor in 2010 and was willing to spend millions of his own dollars to become governor. Then stories started circulating that Heiner's campaign was behind the Comer charges, and a grand jury was brought in to look at threats made by a pro-Heiner blogger. It very much hurt as well that Heiner had some of the least liked politicos in Kentucky helping his campaign, and “independent” PACs supporting Heiner were insultingly ugly with their adverts. In a state where everybody knows everybody else, this all backfired and Heiner wound up finishing a distant third.

Matt Bevin, in the meantime, had improved greatly as a candidate from his rookie effort, spending his own money, over a million dollars, on a well-targeted media presentation in the final days of the contest. Enough Republican voters saw him as the only logical choice left, and he finished just ahead of Comer. This despite the fact that virtually no elected or party officials anywhere in the state supported him.

Now, the big question is can Bevin and Sen. McConnell make nice and bring the state party together after such a bruiser? I don’t see them ever becoming friendly, the way McConnell and Rand Paul have turned into such close allies. But it would be a terrible reflection on McConnell if he left Bevin hanging out to dry. TV time in most of Kentucky is pretty cheap; if Bevin can raise a few million himself and have super PACs like the RGA get involved, that’s probably all he needs to win in a state as conservative as Kentucky. If nothing else, Bevin should be getting a big check from Mark Levin!

Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville, KY.