FRANKFORT, Ky. | Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday publicly endorsed the GOP establishment’s candidate for Kentucky’s other Senate seat, instead of a newcomer backed by the “tea party” movement and by retiring Sen. Jim Bunning.
In a written statement, Mr. McConnell said Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson “has a track record of leading by example” and called on voters to choose Mr. Grayson as the Republican nominee in the May 18 primary election.
Mr. Grayson faces five other Republicans - including political outsider Rand Paul - who are seeking their party’s nomination to run for Mr. Bunning’s seat. Mr. Paul is the son of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who made an unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. The younger Mr. Paul has capitalized on his father’s political base.
Mr. Bunning opted not to seek re-election under pressure from Mr. McConnell and other Republican leaders.
The Grayson campaign has produced a television ad featuring Mr. McConnell.
“I rarely endorse in primaries, but these are critical times,” Mr. McConnell says in the ad. “President Obama’s spending threatens to destroy more jobs. I know Trey Grayson and trust him. We need Trey’s conservative leadership to help turn back the Obama agenda.”
He announced the endorsement weeks after Mr. Bunning endorsed Mr. Paul, the tea party favorite. Mr. Bunning has recorded a TV ad calling Mr. Paul “a man of integrity” and “the only true conservative” in the race.
The endorsements underscore the long-standing estrangement between Mr. McConnell and Mr. Bunning, and are among a series of high-profile expressions of support.
Evangelical leader James Dobson rescinded an endorsement of Mr. Grayson on Monday and encouraged Kentuckians instead to vote for Mr. Paul, a Bowling Green physician.
Mr. Dobson, a leading abortion foe and founder of the Colorado-based Christian ministry Focus on the Family, called his Grayson endorsement “an embarrassing mistake” based on what he termed “misleading information” from Republican leaders.
Mr. Grayson picked up another key endorsement Monday from Rep. Harold Rogers, a revered political figure in Kentucky’s mountain region, which will be a battleground in the May 18 Republican primary.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani have endorsed Mr. Grayson.
Mr. Paul has been endorsed by Mr. Bunning, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes.