By Sam Youngman
Herald-Leader Political Writer
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been leaning hard on U.S. Sen. Rand Paul in an effort to shore up conservative support ahead of the May 20 Republican primary.
On Monday, that endeavor included a road trip.
McConnell made the drive to Paul’s hometown of Bowling Green Monday morning to get Paul and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer to sign the senator’s re-election filing papers while a handful of elected officials looked on.
McConnell’s campaign declined to comment, but Kentucky’s filing deadline is Jan. 28 so an official announcement from the senator should be coming soon.
Since winning Paul’s endorsement in late March, McConnell has been politically joined at the hip of the state’s junior senator as he fends off a primary challenge from Louisville businessman Matt Bevin and wages a larger proxy war against conservative fundraising groups, such as the Senate Conservatives Fund.
In mid-December, the pro-McConnell group Kentucky Opportunity Coalition bought $382,000 worth of ads featuring McConnell and Paul as “working together to stop Obamacare,” a story first reported by Politico.
The threat level Bevin represents to McConnell continues to be a puzzle five months from the primary. But with 2013’s last fundraising quarter coming to an end on Dec. 31, what Bevin posts with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) should shed some light on what kind of offensive the challenger can mount through the rest of the winter and early spring.
Throughout 2013, Paul’s endorsement was key for McConnell in preventing a larger and stronger Tea Party movement against McConnell.
The kinship between McConnell and Paul continues to amaze given the senior senator’s efforts to stop Paul from winning the 2010 Republican primary over former Secretary of State Trey Grayson, McConnell’s preferred candidate. But over the course of the year, the two men appear to have grown increasingly reliant on one another as McConnell defends his seat and Paul eyes a run for the White House in 2016.
Meanwhile, Comer certainly seems to be in McConnell’s good graces after a Nov. 5 speech in Somerset in which the likely Republican candidate for governor took a shot at “party bosses,” warning that he “cannot be controlled.”
Since that speech, in which Comer praised Paul and several other Republicans but omitted McConnell and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, McConnell has now twice stood next to Comer in a positive light.
On Nov. 11, at a Veterans Day event, McConnell joined others in praising Comer for his efforts in launching the Homegrown by Heroes initiative.
As the year comes to an end, both McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes have been turning up the heat in their messages to donors.
“In the spirit of the holiday season we’ve made a list and we’re checking it twice,” the Grimes campaign said in one pre-Christmas email. “According to our records, you haven’t joined the grassroots activist network supporting Alison yet.”
Some of the literature reveals how tough it can be for candidates to raise money during the holidays.
On Dec. 20, the Grimes campaign sent out a fundraising email asking donors to give to an “Emergency Response Fund” and raise $40,000 by the end of the quarter.
Then in fundraising emails on Dec. 28 and Dec. 29, including one with a message from Elsie Case, Grimes’ grandmother, the campaign had moved its goal to $50,000 before the end of the quarter, pledging that other grassroots donors would match any contributions up to that amount.
Though one Grimes email says that “as the most vulnerable incumbent in the country, Mitch McConnell continues to lose ground with Kentucky voters,” a Dec. 20 email from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) paints a different picture. With “deep trouble” as the subject line, the DSCC email said Republicans had “seized the momentum” in three races, including Kentucky.
Citing polls in Michigan, North Carolina and Kentucky, the DSCC asked donors to “step up” and warned that without contributions “we will lose these races and control of the Senate to the Republicans.”
For his part, McConnell sent out a letter to contributors advising them that “President Obama’s liberal allies will be pouring millions of dollars into Kentucky between now and Election Day.”
“The war in Washington is heating up as you know,” McConnell wrote in the letter. “I’m doing everything I can to hold president Obama accountable for his failures and abuses of power. But I also need to ramp up my campaign in Kentucky.”
Political Paddock includes Sam Youngman’s observations from the campaign trail. Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com