Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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January 18, 2013

RONNIE ELLIS: Can anyone challenge McConnell in 2014?

FRANKFORT — Has Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior U.S. Senator and the Republican Minority Leader, concluded he faces little or no danger of a primary challenge in 2014?

A lot of Kentucky’s political junkies believe McConnell, historically ready to cut a deal and who in his 2008 campaign touted his ability to bring federal dollars back to Kentucky, adopted an intransigent tone with President Barack Obama and hawkish positions on issues like the debt ceiling because he feared a tea party challenge in his 2014 re-election bid.

It’s true that many tea party activists in Kentucky aren’t at all happy with McConnell’s role in the deal with Vice President Joe Biden to raise taxes on the wealthy without securing corresponding cuts in spending.

But their frustration doesn’t end there. They’ll say how disappointed they are in the deal and McConnell’s part but then sigh with resignation and concede there is no one who can take him on in a primary.

They know Republican 4th District Congressman Thomas Massie, the libertarian disciple of Ron and Rand Paul, won’t likely do it. Massie said this week in a POLITICO article he has no plans to challenge McConnell. They know McConnell and Rand Paul have forged an alliance and an apparent friendship. Paul has publicly said he knows of no one who can or will challenge McConnell.

Jesse Benton worked for the Pauls and now is McConnell’s 2014 campaign manager.

“Sen. Paul and Sen. McConnell have formed a very strong friendship and have realized the two of them can really deliver for Kentucky,” Benton told THE HILL this week.

He might have added they also realize how much they need each other.

If Paul is serious about national aspirations, he needs McConnell’s help with establishment party figures, fundraising and support. McConnell needs Paul’s support to gain some credibility with Paul followers or at least dampen their willingness to challenge him in a primary.

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