August 8, 2013 10:45 pm

McConnell campaign head recording adds to election challenges

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (center) speaks to the press after the weekly Senate Republicans policy luncheon©Getty

The campaign manager of Mitch McConnell has been caught saying that he was “holding my nose” to run the race, adding yet more turmoil to the top US Senate Republican’s bid for re-election.

Mr McConnell, the minority leader in the Senate, was already facing a difficult road to re-election: He is being challenged by a Tea Party candidate for the Republican nomination and faces a daunting Democratic rival from a powerful Kentucky family on the left should he make it through the primaries.

The dynamics got even messier on Thursday following the release of a recording in which Jesse Benton, a highly regarded Republican strategist, told a conservative activist that his prime objective in helping Mr McConnell was to help Rand Paul, the rising star on the Republican right, in his likely run for president in 2016.

“Between you and me, I’m sort of holding my nose for two years because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in ‘16, so that’s my long vision,” Mr Benton can be heard saying in the recording, which was obtained by the blog EconomicPolicyJournal.com.

The embarrassing revelation does not spell doom for Mr McConnell, but it pointed to what many see as the quid pro quo relationship between Mr McConnell and Mr Paul. Mr McConnell is conservative and once famously said that defeating Barack Obama was his primary objective as a lawmaker. But he is nevertheless despised in Tea Party circles, who see him as a Washington establishment figure.

The decision by Mr Paul, the junior Kentucky senator, to endorse Mr McConnell is seen as critical for Mr McConnell to hold on to his Republican base in Kentucky. In exchange, Mr McConnell has supported some of Mr Paul’s more controversial endeavours, such as his decision to hold a filibuster to temporarily block Mr Obama’s nominee to the Central Intelligence Agency and a recent vote to block foreign aid to Egypt.

Mr McConnell’s office did not immediately comment. Mr Benton did not respond to a request for comment. But he told the Washington Post: “I believe in Senator McConnell and am 100 per cent committed to his re-election. Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honours of my life and I look forward to victory in November 2014.”

Just how rocky that road to victory will be was made clear last week, when the influential Cook Political Report, which rates congressional races, moved the race to a “toss-up” after polls showed that his likely Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, was statistically tied with the senator.

To run against her, Mr McConnell must first ensure he wins a Republican primary. He is being challenged by Matt Bevin. At a recent “Fancy Farm” political picnic featuring all the candidates Mr Bevin goaded Mr McConnell to “be a man” and support conservative efforts to defund the president’s 2010 healthcare law.

Ms Grimes also joked that Mr McConnell would not even pass a “kidney stone” if he had to, a reference to Republican efforts to derail Mr Obama’s agenda.

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