- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2014

The United Kentucky Tea Party on Monday said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell should drop out of the Republican primary in their state so conservatives can rally around Matt Bevin, the GOP candidate who is challenging Mr. McConnell from the political right.

The tea party group cited Mr. McConnell’s dramatic vote last week to extend the nation’s debt limit and polling that suggests he could lose to the eventual Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, in the general election.

“Senator McConnell’s recent vote with [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid to hand President Obama a blank check for the next year has further degraded his support in Kentucky,” the group said.

Mr. McConnell’s vote rallied last-minute support among Republican senators to extend the nation’s borrowing authority, eliciting gasps in the chamber as the party rallied to avoid blame for a potential default over strenuous objections from conservative groups.

The tea party’s new criticism is not surprising, as it has criticized Mr. McConnell in the past in their bid to buttress Mr. Bevin’s campaign.

The McConnell campaign hit back quickly, citing a Politico story last week that said Mr. Bevin signed off on an investment firm document that praised the 2008 federal bank bailout, or Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Mr. Bevin has criticized Mr. McConnell for supporting the program at the time.

“After last week’s revelations, the remaining defenders of Matt Bevin are left with little justification for continuing to support him and even less of an argument for attacking Sen. McConnell,” campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said. “It’s a shame that some well-intentioned folks bought into Matt Bevin’s fictional account of who he is and what he stands for.”

Although polling suggests the long-time senator will trump Mr. Bevin the GOP primary, the tea party faction says Mr. McConnell suffers from an approval rating barely above 30 percent, making him “the weakest Republican candidate.”

“The United Kentucky Tea Party urges Senator McConnell to withdraw from Kentucky’s primary race and encourages the Republican Party to throw its support behind Matt Bevin in order to ensure that this critical Kentucky Senate seat remains in Republican hands,” the group said.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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