FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A former aide to Sen. Rand Paul has joined Republican Matt Bevin's Senate campaign, saying the Louisville businessman is "the best man" in the race and offers needed change in his bid to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Bernie Kunkel will serve as the Bevin campaign's field director in the 4th Congressional District, which includes the urban counties just south of Cincinnati and has become a hotbed of tea party activity. Kunkel served as Paul's field representative in the 4th District in northern Kentucky until taking the campaign job.
Kunkel, a veteran GOP activist in the region, has helped a slew of Republican candidates at the city, state and federal levels, and has been active in promoting anti-abortion and school choice causes.
"I have to help the best man in the upcoming U.S. Senate race and that man is Matt Bevin," Kunkel said in a written statement. "It is time for a change."
Bevin is waging a long-shot bid to topple Kentucky's longest-serving senator in the state's May 20 Republican primary. McConnell, the top-ranking Senate Republican, is seeking a sixth term this year. The Democratic front-runner in the race is Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Bevin said Monday that Kunkel brings years of conservative grassroots experience to his campaign.
"You would be hard pressed to find anybody that more fully embodies conservative Republican thinking in the 4th Congressional District than Bernie Kunkel," Bevin said.
Paul, a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016, endorsed McConnell long ago, but has had kind words for Bevin, calling him a "good, honest, Christian man."
McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton on Monday called Kunkel a good man, noting he has been Kunkel's supervisor in the past.
"He's just very misguided in this instance," Benton said. "We are happy to have Sen. Paul's strong support and proud of the great work Mitch and Rand are doing together for Kentucky."
McConnell and Paul have co-sponsored 51 bills in the current Congress, according to McConnell's staff. Their work together has included efforts to expedite coal permits, promote financial lending in rural areas and preserve access to prime fishing spots below dams along the Cumberland River.
Bevin campaign spokeswoman Rachel Semmel said Kunkel joined the campaign over the weekend.
Phyllis Sparks, vice chairman of the Boone County GOP, said Bevin's campaign had "gained a treasure."
"I am so proud of him and only hope that others take note of his commitment to the Constitution and conservative values," she said.