Angry bluegrass roots and strong rivals spell trouble for Mitch McConnell in Kentucky

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Bevin will be scrutinized closer than he ever has — there is a reason so many top Democrats were reluctant to run,” Mr. Lasley said. “While McConnell might have preferred to save all his resources for Grimes, he has plenty of money. It will be interesting to see how much Bevin is willing to invest of his own resources and what he is able to raise.”

Mr. McConnell, 71, has nearly $9.6 million in cash on hand nearly 10 months before the Republican primary and 15 months before the general election.

“I don’t think McConnell needs to worry too much,” said Mike McKenna, a Republican Party strategist. “He stood for re-election at the height of President Bush’s unpopularity and amidst a financial meltdown and won by over 100,000 votes. There aren’t many people in Kentucky who aren’t familiar with Sen. McConnell and his record.”

The political landscape, though, has changed since Mr. McConnell’s election in 2008, largely because of the emergence of the tea party movement, which has targeted incumbents who backed Bush-era policies that led to more spending and more government. Those issues helped boost Mr. Paul to victory over a McConnell-backed candidate in Kentucky’s 2010 primary.

Mr. Bevin’s candidacy has split the tea party, pitting pro-Bevin groups in Kentucky against a couple of pro-McConnell national branches of the movement, who say the incumbent went to bat for them when it was reported that the Internal Revenue Service was targeting conservative and tea party groups. They also say the minority leader gives Republicans their best chance of taking over the Senate.

The Madison Project, a conservative fundraising group led by former Rep. Jim Ryun of Kansas, endorsed Mr. Bevin and called Mr. McConnell “unprincipled.”

The Club for Growth, which advocates for a free market and regularly helps unseat establishment candidates in Republican primaries, has remained neutral in the race. Some say it is out of respect for Mr. McConnell’s reputation for being a no-holds-barred campaigner with a long political memory.

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