- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

SOMERSET, Ky. (AP) - Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell is declining to answer questions about his former campaign manager who resigned amid a federal investigation of a 2012 Iowa Republican Caucus bribery scandal.

McConnell’s Democratic rival, Alison Lundergan Grimes, meanwhile, doesn’t want to discuss accusations that she accepted illegal campaign contributions from her father by renting a campaign bus from one his companies for a potentially below-market rate.

It’s the latest back-and-forth in the nation’s marquee Senate race as McConnell, the Senate’s highest-ranking Republican, and Grimes, her party’s most high-profile and well-funded challenger, look for any advantage ahead the Nov. 4 election.

McConnell addressed Jesse Benton’s resignation for the first time Tuesday by declining to discuss it in any detail.

“We’re moving on,” McConnell told reporters after he spoke to a friendly chamber of commerce crowd in Pulaski County. “We’ve got sixty some-odd days left in the campaign. We’re talking about the future and not the past.”

Benton resigned Friday amid the latest fallout from the 2012 presidential campaign, when he worked for Ron Paul. Benton, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, said he didn’t want to be a distraction for McConnell after former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty to federal charges.

Prosecutors say Sorensen received thousands of dollars in “under the table payments” before switching loyalties from Bachmann to Paul, then lied to federal investigators about the money. They have not said which presidential campaign they allege paid Sorenson.

McConnell is not connected to the case. Yet in Kentucky, Grimes and her aides have raised questions about whether McConnell knew about the investigation before hiring Benton last year. “Trust has always been an issue for Mitch McConnell and his campaign, and he has got some serious questions regarding these charges that he and his campaign are going to have to respond to,” Grimes said earlier this week at a campaign event.

Likewise, the McConnell campaign continued its assault on Grimes after disclosure that her campaign rented its campaign bus from a firm owned by the candidate’s father. Republicans allege that the Grimes campaign has paid a below-market rate. A McConnell campaign ad frames the deal as “illegal” campaign contributions from Lundergan to his daughter.

Grimes said this week that the ad is an attempt to “distract Kentucky voters’ attention from what really matters.” She continued, “He may want to attack my family, but I’m going to attack the problems of Kentucky.”

One of McConnell’s top advisers couldn’t resist a retort Tuesday. “I think the first chapter of the ‘you know you’re losing when’ book is about a candidate consumed by their opponent’s former staff,” Josh Holmes said via his Twitter account.

Asked Tuesday whether voters in a tight race are actually influenced by things like the Grimes bus and the Benton resignation, McConnell said, “I think the people of our state will decide what’s important to them.”

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Associated Press reporter Adam Beam in Frankfort, Kentucky, contributed to this story. Follow Barrow on Twitter @BillBarrowAP.