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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Scott Jennings | Despite media gushing, is Bevin truly Republican?

The U.S. Senate race experienced a jolt of interesting last week when Jesse Benton, incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager, said in a surreptitiously recorded phone call with a belligerent Ron Paul activist that he was “holding his nose” to work for McConnell.

Benton later apologized for the remark, and the campaign handled it about as well as it could by releasing light-hearted photos of McConnell and Benton laughing it off. Matt Bevin, McConnell’s primary opponent, jumped on the remark immediately (along with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee). Bevin’s spokesperson issued a statement snidely piling onto Benton’s bad day.

But the more interesting Kentucky Senate revelation in the last few days was not about a staffer’s sensitive snout but rather an admission candidate Bevin made to National Review about the vote he cast in the 2004 presidential campaign.

Was it Republican George W. Bush? Nope. Democrat John Kerry? Guess again. Libertarian Michael Badnarik? Surely that’s it, right? After all, Bevin is trying to latch on to that side of the GOP. Nein. Did he somehow accidentally vote for liberal activist Ralph Nader, running as an independent? Nada.
No, Matt Bevin proudly voted for fifth-place finisher and Constitution Party standard-bearer Michael Peroutka, who can easily be found on YouTube giving a lengthy speech in front of the third national flag of the Confederate States of America. We also learned in the article that not only did Bevin vote for Peroutka, but that his campaign T-shirt is still in Bevin’s drawer nine years later.

Bevin, who frequently says Mitch McConnell is out of touch with Kentuckians, voted with 2,212 other people while 1,793,647 voters chose someone else. If you are keeping score at home, that means Bevin was in touch with 0.001 percent of Kentucky and Mitch McConnell was in touch with 60 percent of it, Bush’s percentage in that election. Further, exit polling showed that 92 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of conservatives voted for Bush in Kentucky, putting Bevin even further outside the mainstream of his own party.

Casting a protest vote for a non-major party candidate happens. Wearing the candidate’s T-shirt for nine years suggests Matt Bevin is perhaps no more interested in being a Republican than is Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, the other major candidate in Kentucky’s upcoming Senate race.

Put the shoe on the other foot. If Grimes were to proudly tout owning a Ralph Nader T-shirt would the Democratic Party be so high on her? I highly doubt it.

Bevin has had other dalliances with non-Republican candidates. He financially backed a candidate for state representative in 2012 who described herself as a “loyal, registered Democrat her entire voting life,” and whose responses to a Kentucky Right to Life PAC questionnaire were judged “mostly anti-life” by the organization. Then, during his speech at Fancy Farm, Bevin proclaimed to Grimes and the assembled Democrats, “We’re on the same team here.”

None of this, of course, disqualifies Bevin from filing to run as a Republican. And to be fair, Bevin has said he that he voted for John McCain in 2008 and records indicate he contributed to Mitt Romney in 2012. But there is ample evidence indicating Bevin seeks to be the nominee of a political party from which he frequently and quixotically strays.
Bevin is, for the moment, enjoying the gushing of a media establishment that loves to make trouble for Mitch McConnell. The political prognosticators are desperate for Republicans to think Bevin credible, and perhaps have been fooled into believing so because of the unfortunate candidacies of other recent tea party-backed candidates for U.S. Senate.

Sure, next to some other tea party Senate candidates, Bevin, at the moment, seems slightly less unhinged. After all, the tea party has helped produce U.S. Senate nominees who: supported a Church of Scientology-backed drug treatment program (Nevada’s Sharron Angle); asked people to vote for him “because he doesn’t wear high heels” (Colorado’s Ken Buck); had to make a television ad proclaiming that she wasn’t a witch (Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell); and couldn’t quite find a way to hone their message on rape (Indiana’s Richard Mourdock and Missouri’s Todd Akin).

So, yes, Bevin seems to have jumped over this unbelievably low bar of credibility in the eyes of the political press. But that is akin to proclaiming a golfer ready for the PGA Tour after acing the windmill hole at the local miniature golf course.
Grimes, the Democrat, also earned media kudos from the press for her Fancy Farm speech. But again, I wonder, would anyone be taking her seriously if she were flying the Ralph Nader banner in the days leading up to that event? The answer is, of course, no. Democrats would be running for the hills, still searching for someone who didn’t seem so far outside the mainstream. Bevin’s admission regarding Peroutka came on the Monday of Fancy Farm week.

So, while Jesse Benton deserves whatever tongue lashing he got from Mitch McConnell for his dumb remark, I find the idle chitchat of mercenary political operatives less interesting than whatever Matt Bevin was thinking when he went as far outside the mainstream as he could possibly go in the 2004 presidential election. I’m sure the thousands of Kentucky Republicans who volunteered and donated to former President Bush in Kentucky would probably wonder the same thing.

Scott Jennings is a partner in RunSwitch Public Relations, and former deputy White House political director under President George W. Bush. He worked in both of the Bush/Dick Cheney campaigns and in Mitt Romney's campaign in 2012; he was a staff member on Mitch McConnell’s ‘02 and ‘08 re-election campaigns.
The author also is a media relations vendor to a pro-McConnell Super PAC that has run advertising in this election critical of Alison Lundergan Grimes. As such, he is prohibited from coordinating with Sen. McConnell’s campaign; the opinions and research expressed in this column are the author’s.
Jennings’ column appears every third Wednesday in Forum. He can be reached at

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