MURRAY, Ky. (AP) - Texas Gov. Rick Perry threw his support behind U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell on Saturday, telling 300 fellow Republicans that the minority leader will win re-election.
McConnell finds himself in a GOP primary fight with wealthy businessman Matt Bevin, who attended the event but wasn’t allowed to speak.
“I love the number six,” Perry told the crowd at the Lincoln Reagan Dinner of West Kentucky. “Sam Houston was 6 foot 6 inches tall. And Mitch McConnell is going to be in his sixth term as United States senator.”
Organizers said the dinner was supposed to unite the Kentucky GOP behind one mission: taking control of the Kentucky House of Representatives in November. But speakers talked just as much about taking control of the U.S. Senate so McConnell could become majority leader.
“The future of America is inextricably intertwined with Kentucky and how these elections come out this time,” Perry told the crowd.
But first, McConnell must fend off a challenge from Bevin, who has attracted the backing of tea party groups. The primary is May 20.
Organizers said the dinner was not intended to endorse McConnell, but every table had “Mitch ‘14” bumper stickers on them.
Before the dinner, Bevin and some volunteers shook hands outside.
“I’m running for U.S. Senate against Mitch McConnell. I’m the guy you’re not supposed to know about,” Bevin told a McConnell supporter.
McConnell spoke after Perry, calling his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes the “face of the status quo.” He also said Sen. Rand Paul was “an incredible and electable candidate for president of the United States.” Both Paul and Perry are considered prospective 2016 presidential candidates.
McConnell made no mention of Bevin. Bevin told reporters he was not surprised, adding that it was no coincidence the Kentucky Republican Party - headquartered in the Mitch McConnell Building in Frankfort - goes to great lengths to “have people think there is not a race.”
“This is like the old Who song. You know? We won’t be fooled again,” Bevin said. “We have been fooled time and time again by a man who tells us one thing in Kentucky and he goes to Washington and he does something else. And the people of Kentucky are weary of it.”
Calloway County Republican Party chairman Greg DeLancey said the program was limited to elected officials so no one will be distracted from the theme of defeating state House democrats in November.
“We’re just trying - especially in western Kentucky - to bring that theme home of getting Republicans together and seeing how much we all have in common,” he said.
Bevin has been invited to speak at other county Lincoln Day dinners, including one in Barren County last month where he was the keynote speaker.
Phill McCallon, a transportation worker from Kirksey, said he has voted for McConnell several times. But this year, his vote is in doubt.
“I came to see what they have to offer. I like what Bevin has to say, but Mitch has the power right now,” he said. “I still don’t’ know which way I’m going to lean.”
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