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Mitch McConnell raises $2.4 million, Matt Bevin raises $1.1 million in first quarter of 2014

Matt Bevin, left, is challenging incumbent Mitch McConnell in the battle to be the GOP's nominee in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race.By Sam Youngman

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had his best fundraising quarter of this election cycle, pulling in $2.4 million in the first fundraising quarter of 2014.

But McConnell is also spending heavily. His campaign will report $10.4 million in cash on hand, which is down more than $500,000 from the cash position McConnell started the year with.

The McConnell campaign stressed that the spending is not in response to a primary challenge from Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, noting that the majority of expenditures are for the fall campaign.

An ad McConnell’s campaign ran earlier this year featuring Paducah cancer survivor Robert Pierce ran statewide at a cost of more than $840,000.

“Team Mitch has invested early in ground-game infrastructure that will help deliver unprecedented voter contact in Kentucky,” the campaign said in a statement to the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Additionally, last quarter, Team Mitch made their first major television expenditure with an ad that media guru Frank Luntz recently called the best of the cycle.”

GOP gubernatorial candidate Hal Heiner gives his campaign $200,000

Hal Heiner, a former Louisville Metro councilman, announced Tuesday that he has entered the race for the Republican nomination for Kentucky governor. Heiner announced his candidacy at Star Manufacturing in Lexington. PHOTO BY PABLO ALCALA | STAFF

By Sam Youngman

Former Louisville Metro councilman Hal Heiner, the only announced candidate in the 2015 governor’s race, gave his campaign $200,000 of his own money in the first fundraising quarter of 2014.

After officially announcing his run at the beginning of March with Lexingtonian KC Crosbie as his running mate, Heiner raised just more than $86,000 in the first fundraising quarter.

After giving his campaign $200,000, Heiner started the second quarter with a little more than $191,000 in cash on hand.

“Hal and KC are thrilled with the level of support the campaign has received in the first few weeks since announcing their intentions,” campaign manager Joe Burgan said in a statement. “In that time, the candidates have traveled all across Kentucky beginning the process of building a statewide network of support.”

Burgan said the campaign is in a “strong financial position” and will have the funds needed “to communicate their positive message for Kentucky’s future.”

A Republican poll released just before Heiner got in the race suggested Heiner, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Louisville in 2010, has his work cut out for him.

The poll, conducted Feb. 26 and 27 by Robert Blizzard at Public Opinion Strategies, found Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who is considering a bid for governor, leading Heiner 42 percent to 14 percent among 400 Republican primary voters. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Bevin to highlight McConnell’s UK-Duke mix-up in ad during Kentucky-Louisville game

bevin-screengrabBy Sam Youngman

With most of the eyeballs in the Bluegrass State glued to their televisions Friday night for the match-up between the Kentucky Wildcats and the Louisville Cardinals, Mitch McConnell’s allies and enemies are looking to leave voters with a different kind of March Madness memory.

Matt Bevin, the Louisville businessman struggling to gain traction in his bid to oust McConnell in the May 20 Republican primary, is determined to make McConnell’s Duke debacle earlier this week something that sticks with the Senate minority leader well beyond the NCAA basketball tournament.

Bevin is running a basketball-themed spot in Louisville and Lexington poking fun at the embarrassment that befell the McConnell campaign when it released a web video that included brief footage of a team in blue and white celebrating a national championship. The problem, as reported across the nation, was that those players were Duke University Blue Devils, a reviled team in the commonwealth.

After compounding the misstep by replacing the footage with an image of Kentucky standout Julius Randle — that move prompted a cease-and-decist letter from the University of Kentucky — the McConnell campaign pulled the ad.

“March Madness in Kentucky. Commitment. Courage. You gotta love it,” Bevin says before turning to a cutout of McConnell wearing a Duke jersey. “Even if your team is already out of the tournament.”

The cutout is wearing Number 32, which Christian Laettner wore for Duke when he spat on the hopes and dreams of Kentucky fans with his last second shot against the Wildcats in the 1992 NCAA tournament.

The Bevin campaign’s response is similar to that of likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes, both of whom argue that the video fiasco proves McConnell is “out of touch.”

In response, the McConnell camp pointed to troubles that have allowed the campaign to question Bevin’s credibility, like the inaccurate suggestion by Bevin on a social media page that he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or his varied explanations for signing a letter in 2008 that praised the Troubled Assets Relief Program, more commonly known as a bank bailout.

“Given Bailout Bevin’s undying commitment to a fictional account of himself and Sen. McConnell, we actually expected this ad to be about the time he won a national championship back in the 80s as a point guard for the MIT Engineers,” Allison Moore, McConnell’s spokeswoman, said. “Matt Bailout Bevin is not who he says he is, and he’s certainly not a Kentucky conservative.”

Meanwhile, two groups supportive of McConnell are planning to run ads during the game in the Lexington, Louisville, Bowling Green and Paducah markets.

The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization, is running an issues ad that boasts of McConnell’s efforts to help troops and veterans. The ad is part of a $1.8 million ad campaign the Herald-Leader first reported last week.

Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a pro-McConnell super PAC, is running an ad attacking Grimes’ credibility and painting her as an ally of President Barack Obama.

The ad, “Burned,” features Obama saying “if you like your private insurance plan, you can keep your plan,” before shifting to clips of a burning house that were used in a web ad by Grimes last October called “Fire.”

Grimes’s ad featured a burning house and cast blame on McConnell for last fall’s 16-day federal government shutdown. It mocked the senator’s efforts to win credit for helping to end the Washington stand-off.

“Mitch McConnell can’t light the house on fire, then claim credit for putting it out, especially while it’s still burning,” the Grimes’ video said.

The “Fire” ad was widely praised by pundits and Grimes allies, but fact-checkers said it was either inaccurate or misleading. The Washington Post’s fact-checking column, called The Fact Checker, gave it three out of four “Pinnochios.”

The latest pro-McConnell ad points to The Fact Checker’s ruling, using its arguments to poke holes in Grimes’s credibility.

“When liberals don’t tell the truth, Kentucky gets burned,” the ad says.

Republican lieutenant governor candidate KC Crosbie resigns from state GOP post

KC CrosbieBy Sam Youngman

Lexingtonian KC Crosbie resigned Tuesday as finance chairwoman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, just more than a week after she was announced as Louisville businessman Hal Heiner’s running mate in the 2015 race for governor and lieutenant governor.

Crosbie will be replaced by state Rep. David Osborne.

In a statement released by Heiner’s campaign, Crosbie said her new role as a candidate meant it was time to “pass along these duties.”

“I have appreciated the opportunity to serve the RPK over the past two years,” Crosbie said. “Given my recent decision to run on the ticket with Hal Heiner as his lieutenant governor and my current responsibilities as RNC National Committee Woman, I believe that it is the right time for me and our Party to pass along these duties to someone as qualified and committed as Representative Osborne.”

Heiner’s announcement of Crosbie as his running mate left allies of likely gubernatorial candidate and Agriculture Commissioner James Comer leery that one of their would-be rivals was still a fixture at the state party.

The day before Heiner’s announcement, Republican House Floor Leader Jeff Hoover told the Herald-Leader that Crosbie should resign from the post.

Comer said Wednesday he was happy the party had taken steps to make sure that winning control of the state House for the first time since 1921 was the Kentucky GOP’s undisputed priority.

“This situation put the party in a really tough spot, and I’m excited to see that my good friend, Rep. David Osborne, is stepping in to steady the ship and make sure that the focus stays on flipping the House,” Comer said.

Steve Robertson, chairman of the state party, said he was grateful to Crosbie for her time raising funds “to further our party’s administrative, state legislative and federal election goals.”

“She has dedicated an incredible amount of time to this volunteer position, and I am grateful for her service,” Robertson said.

Crosbie also is one of the state’s three members of the Republican National Committee, and Heiner campaign manager Joe Burgan said on the day of the announcement that she has no intention of resigning that post.

Osborne has contributed heavily to the state party and is regarded as a warrior for state Republicans in their effort to retake the House.

“David Osborne is someone who has worked for years to raise money for the party, and has been focused on creating the first Republican majority in the State House in nearly a century,” Robertson said. “Through David’s leadership as finance chair, our party will sharpen its focus on flipping the state House, growing our majority in the state Senate, and ensuring Kentucky continues to be represented by two Republican United States senators.”

Osborne said in a statement that he was “honored to assume this important position of leadership in the Republican Party of Kentucky and plan to work diligently to help our party reach its goals.”

“We have an incredible opportunity to flip the house to Republican control this year, and I am eager to help our party make history and take back the majority for the first time in almost a century,” Osborne said.

Political Paddock: Rand Paul is on a roll

Sam YoungmanBy Sam Youngman
Herald-Leader Political Writer

In late February, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul played golf with Donald Trump at Trump’s course in Palm Beach. Trump shot par and walked away with the win.

That’s about the only thing that hasn’t gone Paul’s way in 2014 as he continues to eye a run for the White House in 2016.

More than a year removed from the 13-hour filibuster that sent his star rising and less than a year before Paul could announce that he is running for president, Kentucky’s junior senator is winning over skeptics daily.

What once seemed like a parlor game punchline is growing more realistic by the day: Rand Paul could very well win the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

The road map Paul and his team put together — growing his brand outside of Tea Party voters, making inroads with establishment Republican donors, and wooing millennials — appears to be on track.

Black leaders are increasingly inviting Paul to speak and listen to their constituents, top donors are sitting down for lunch with the Tea Party darling — nearly matching what Paul is raising from his strong base of small-dollar donors — and a couple thousand millennials made sure Paul walked away from last weekend’s CPAC convention with his second straight straw-poll win.

Tea Party group launches ad blaming Mitch McConnell for gay-marriage ruling

Matt Bevin, left, is challenging incumbent Mitch McConnell in the battle to be the GOP's nominee in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race.By Sam Youngman

A national Tea Party fundraising group aligned with Louisville businessman Matt Bevin plans to launch a radio ad Tuesday that blames Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for a court ruling requiring Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

U.S. District Judge John Heyburn II, who issued a final version of his ruling last week, was appointed by President George H.W. Bush on the recommendation of McConnell. Heyburn served as general counsel for McConnell when he was Jefferson County judge-executive in the early 1980s.

“Republican voters strongly disagree with Judge Heyburn, and Sen. McConnell should admit that recommending him was a mistake,” the Senate Conservatives Fund said in a statement.

The group’s ad also notes that Heyburn ruled in 1998 to overturn the state’s ban on partial-birth abortion.

“Who recommended this liberal judge?” one actor says in the ad.

“Mitch McConnell,” another actor replies.

“McConnell should admit right now that recommending Judge Heyburn was a mistake,” the first actor says. “He knew this judge wasn’t a conservative and promoted him anyway. Now we’re stuck with gay marriage.”

Both actors go on to say they plan to vote for Bevin in Kentucky’s Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

The group said it will spend $29,000 to run the 60-second ad statewide.

In a statement, McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore called the group’s claims “absurd and pathetic.”

“This is the kind of ad voters expect to hear from people who are days away from boxing up their personal effects and auctioning off the remaining printer cartridges in the office,” Moore said. “It is so absurd and pathetic that they ought to stop troubling radio listeners with the obligation of switching stations and admit they have no justification to attack Senator McConnell.”

After Heyburn made his initial gay-marriage ruling earlier last month, McConnell issued a statement condemning the decision and saying that Kentuckians should not have gay marriage “forced on us.”

“I will continue to support traditional marriage and fight to make sure that Kentuckians define marriage as we see fit and never have a definition forced on us by interests outside of our state,” McConnell said.

SCF’s radio ad also accuses McConnell of “political cronyism,” suggesting that he recommended Heyburn because Heyburn had donated to McConnell and served as his county campaign chairman.

“McConnell knew Judge Heyburn was not a conservative, but he promoted him anyway,” said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund. “Now Judge Heyburn is forcing his liberal views on Kentucky.”

Political Paddock: First gubernatorial candidate announces Tuesday, but fighting already underway

Sam YoungmanBy Sam Youngman
Herald-Leader Political Writer

Spring remains elusive, but the 2015 race for governor has arrived early.

The battle officially kicks off Tuesday morning, when former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner announces his bid for the governor’s mansion in Lexington.

Former Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilwoman KC Crosbie is widely expected to be Heiner’s choice as a running mate. Crosbie is one of Kentucky’s three members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) and serves as finance chairwoman for the Republican Party of Kentucky.

Allies of Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, who is considering a run for governor but repeated this week that he will not make an announcement until after this year’s elections, welcomed Crosbie to the race Monday by calling for her resignation from the RNC and state GOP finance committee. They also raised questions about her husband’s work lobbying on behalf of pro-gambling interests.

The tensions between Heiner and Comer have simmered behind the scenes for months as both have made their interest in the race known. With Heiner about to make things official, those tensions appear ready to boil over.

Comer told the Herald-Leader Monday that Heiner, who appears hopeful of selling himself as the social conservative in the race, would have to explain the “inconsistencies” of seeking support from anti-gambling groups while putting Crosbie on the ticket.

GOP poll shows Comer with big early lead over Heiner in 2015 race for governor

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture James Comer By Sam Youngman

A Republican polling memo obtained by the Herald-Leader shows Agriculture Commissioner James Comer with a commanding early lead over former Louisville Metro Councilman Hal Heiner in the 2015 gubernatorial primary.

While neither man has announced a run for governor, both have indicated they’re likely to do so.

The poll, conducted by Robert Blizzard at Public Opinion Strategies, found Comer leading Heiner 42 percent to 14 percent among 400 Republican primary voters between Feb. 26-27. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.

Blizzard and Public Opinion Strategies have done polling for a number of Kentucky Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, U.S. Rep. Andy Barr and state Senate Republican Floor Leader Damon Thayer.

Comer and other would-be candidates are prohibited from polling before officially launching a campaign, but Blizzard said in an email that “the poll was not paid for by any candidate, prospective candidate or political action committee.”

Matt Bevin’s bailout explanation called ‘very odd’ by securities lawyer

Matt Bevin, left, is challenging incumbent Mitch McConnell in the battle to be the GOP's nominee in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race.By Sam Youngman

By Sam Youngman

Tea Party groups supporting Matt Bevin’s bid against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said they are satisfied with Bevin’s explanation for signing a document that praised the federal bank bailout of 2008.

But lawyers who have worked with and against the Securities and Exchange Commission take issue with the explanation, expressing surprise and dismay that Bevin claimed to not have agreed with the content of a letter to investors that he signed.

Earlier this week, Politico reported that Bevin had signed a letter to investors of Veracity Funds in which he and investment manager Dan Bandi wrote that the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, widely considered the first bailout of the global economic collapse, had been a “positive” development for the markets.

Bevin, who has repeatedly criticized McConnell for supporting the bailout, responded to the report by saying that he has always opposed the bailout and that he had not written the letter but only signed it. He also said he thought it would be illegal for him to change the content of the letter.

But allies of McConnell, and attorneys versed in SEC law who are not connected to McConnell, told the Herald-Leader that Bevin could have changed the letter to investors without changing the facts and figures in the accompanying prospectus, which would have been illegal.

Additionally, similar letters to investors obtained by the Herald-Leader show that Bevin sometimes signed the letters and sometimes did not, raising questions about why he thought he needed to sign the letter in question.

Bevin’s explanation that he signed a letter to investors even though it contained opinions contrary to his own is “very odd,” said Mike Edney, a partner at Steptoe and Johnson who represents clients in SEC matters.

Aide to Mitch McConnell explains senator’s debt-ceiling vote

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell By Sam Youngman

An aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that McConnell “kept his promise to Kentuckians that he would not risk another government shutdown or default” when he voted Wednesday to help Democrats cut off debate on a bill to suspend the nation’s debt ceiling.

McConnell, who along with U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, led a small group of Republicans in joining Senate Democrats to beat a filibuster on the “clean” debt ceiling bill, has come under intense fire from Republican challenger Matt Bevin and his allies.

McConnell voted against the bill on final passage, but McConnell’s role in leading members of his caucus to help Democrats cut off debate earned the wrath of Bevin and Tea Party groups.

McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer said in a statement that McConnell “has consistently said that raising the debt limit without corresponding cuts in spending is irresponsible, and that’s why he and every Senate Republican were united in the final vote against the debt ceiling hike.”

“Sen. McConnell strongly believes that the President and Democrats in Congress are failing the country by refusing to fix Washington’s underlying spending problem,” Steurer said. “Unfortunately, Senate Democrats are in the majority and they were determined to hike the debt limit.”

Republican leaders were determined to avoid another stand-off like the one last October over the federal budget that shut down the government, hurt Republican standing with the public and took focus off of the widely-maligned rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Bevin called the vote “financially reckless.”

“I wish I could say I am surprised that Mitch McConnell voted to hand President Obama another blank check,” Bevin said in a statement. “But sadly, I am not because this is more of the same from a career politician who has voted for bigger government, multiple bailouts and now 11 debt ceiling increases.”