LOUISVILLE, Ky.— For Matt Bevin, the rookie Senate candidate taking on one of the most powerful Republicans in the country — and possibly the most ruthless — every day on the stump brings a new hazing.
There was the time before he even jumped into the race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell when Bevin was warned he’d be shunned by fellow churchgoers once McConnell was finished making mincemeat of his reputation. Campaign trackers follow Bevin constantly, recording his every public utterance to turn the slightest slip into an attack ad or Web video. Vendors and consultants one day say they’re ready to come on board only to ominously reverse course the next, after mulling the repercussions of crossing McConnell.
“I’ve had people who’ve said, ‘You can use our donor list’ or ‘I’ll come on with the campaign,’” Bevin said during a recent daylong campaign excursion around Louisville. “Then all of a sudden they change their minds.”
Some have told him they were warned “it will be the last job you ever have in this business” if they joined his campaign, he said.
“It is thuggery,” Bevin added. “It’s literally like something out of Tammany Hall. It’s dusting off Boss Tweed. I say bring it on.”
Bevin realizes no party leader has ever gone down in a primary; he knows the prevailing wisdom in Washington is that he has no chance, and that his only purpose is to damage McConnell heading into a tough general election against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. No incumbent has a bigger target on his back this year than McConnell — a host of tea party groups and the entire Democratic Party both want nothing more than to defeat him — and Bevin’s performance could go a long way in determining whether the minority leader survives to serve a sixth term and possibly become majority leader.
Bevin credibly invokes a Horatio Alger-like life story on the trail. Grew up on a New Hampshire farm in a family of eight with a single toilet and a wood stove to heat the three-bedroom home. Worked his way through college on an ROTC scholarship and rose to the rank of U.S. Army captain. Self-made millionaire businessman and investor. Father of nine, including four adopted from Ethiopia.
Yet none of those feats could have prepared the 47-year-old, tea party-backed Republican for the self-inflicted endurance test he is currently experiencing taking on McConnell.
Down 20-plus points in polls — an improvement, Bevin notes in his characteristically upbeat manner, from the 40-point deficit he faced last summer — his immediate task is to convince people not that he will win the May 20 primary, just that it’s not totally inconceivable he could.
“Statistically, even now, it’s crazy long odds, but the tide is turning,” he said. “I’ve always been a risk taker, but I’m a calculated risk taker.” (continue reading)