Mitch McConnell Has a Tea Party Challenger

| Mon Jul. 22, 2013 12:03 PM EDT

In the past month, Mitch McConnell and his allies have gone after Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the the Senate minority leader's likely Democratic challenger in 2014. His campaign bashed Grimes immediately after she entered the race, saying she was "not ready for prime time" and calling her a "left wing mime." More recently, a pro-McConnell super-PAC said it was spending $270,000 on ads attacking Grimes.

But the McConnell camp is getting ahead of itself. McConnell now has a challenger for the GOP nomination, a businessman and tea partier named Matt Bevin. An investor who also owns a 181-year-old bell-making company, Bevin plans to announce his candidacy on Wednesday, followed by a three-day tour of Kentucky. A group named Matt Bevin for Senate has reportedly reserved TV time in several Kentucky media markets.

Here's more from Politico:

While the all-but-announced McConnell challenger is believed to be wealthy enough to commit some personal resources to the race, it’s not clear whether he can—or will—fully self-fund a campaign. A key test of his viability may be whether conservative outside groups are willing to give him back-up on the airwaves.

A Bevin adviser, who asked to speak anonymously in the pre-announcement phase, said the challenger’s preparations have been "under way for several months."

"Matt has been speaking with grassroots activists throughout Kentucky and has received a great amount of encouragement and support. This will be a real campaign, and we are ready for the inevitable smear tactics that Mitch McConnell's campaign machine is famous for," the adviser said. "In the words of Kirsten Dunst, bring it on."

Even if Bevin manages to win some support from ideological advocacy groups, it will be no small task for him—and any allies he may have won over—to take on McConnell. A senior McConnell strategist expressed deep skepticism that any prominent outside groups would ultimately take the plunge into the Kentucky GOP primary.

Bevin's reason for running is obvious: He sees an opening to attack McConnell by challenging his conservative bona fides. Tea partiers inside and outside of Kentucky accused McConnell of apostasy for brokering a deal to end the fiscal-cliff showdown in January. "We feel like he sold us out on that, and beforehand he was just feeding us political spin," John Kemper, a tea party leader in Kentucky, told me in January.

But Bevin will need all the financial help he can get. McConnell has nearly $10 million in his campaign bank account, one of the biggest war chests of any Senate candidate. As I reported, Grimes, the Kentucky Democrat, told at least one Democratic strategist that she'll need $26-$30 million to defeat McConnell.

Bevin won't need that much for the primary fight, but it's safe to say he'll need many millions to even compete with McConnell. He will need to pony up his own cash—and all the help the tea party can muster—to stand a chance.

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