- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

ELIZABETHTOWN, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky Republicans waiting to see U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell put his arm around his political nemesis Matt Bevin will have to wait a little longer.

Bevin cancelled an appearance at the Elizabethtown Rotary Club on Tuesday where McConnell, the Senate majority leader, spoke. And McConnell has said he will not attend the state Republican Party’s Lincoln Day dinner on Saturday when Bevin will be the featured speaker.

The absences seem to highlight a tense relationship between the state’s senior senator and its likely Republican nominee for governor. Just last year, McConnell’s re-election campaign asked Kentucky’s Republican voters in a television ad: “how can you believe (Bevin) on anything?”

Bevin used his young daughter in a TV ad to say McConnell was spreading lies during the state’s Republican primary, which McConnell won handily.

Ben Hartman, Bevin’s campaign manager, said Bevin missed McConnell’s speech Tuesday because of a “scheduling conflict,” but added that he was looking forward Saturday’s event with McConnell.

McConnell told reporters in Elizabethtown he can’t make the dinner because he has to be in Washington to prepare for a rare Sunday session to try and avert the expiration of the Patriot Act, which fellow Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul vigorously opposes.

“I don’t think (people) should read that into it,” McConnell said of his absence on Saturday. “If I were not the majority leader of the Senate, you know, I could probably wait until Sunday to go back. But I’m responsible for the schedule, I’m responsible for the Sunday session and so nothing should be read into that in terms of my interest in the governor’s race or any other race this fall.”

Bevin leads Agriculture Commissioner James Comer by 83 votes after last week’s Republican primary for governor. Comer has asked for a review of the state’s voting machines and absentee ballots, a process that won’t start until Thursday. If the results hold, Comer could file a lawsuit and ask for a recount.

The uncertainty has not stopped Bevin from acting like the nominee. His campaign sent out invitations to the dinner Saturday, referring to Bevin as the Republican nominee for governor. And he has been telling reporters he expects McConnell will support him, adding that he supported McConnell in his 2014 re-election by writing checks to his campaign.

McConnell would not refer to Bevin as the nominee on Tuesday, saying he would support the Republican nominee “as soon as we know who that is.”

Bevin declined several times to publicly endorse McConnell in 2014, although he did attend events and urged Republicans to vote in the general election.

Democrats are already trying to capitalize on the rocky relationship.

“He needs to pretty quickly figure out whether or not he wrote a check to Mitch McConnell or not,” Democratic nominee for governor Jack Conway said Tuesday after an appearance in Edgewood. “Because a couple of days after his narrow win, I hear he was telling people that he attended fundraisers and wrote a bunch of checks to Mitch McConnell, and there’s nary a bit of evidence that he actually did that. He either needs to find those checks or get his story straight.”

Some Republicans insist Bevin and McConnell’s relationship is just fine. Last week, four Republican state representatives from Hardin County who supported Comer in the primary sent a letter to county Republicans urging them to put aside their differences and support the Republican candidate.

“Having spoken with both of them, there is no animosity. That’s not spin, that’s the truth,” said state Rep. Tim Moore, who co-wrote the letter. Of Bevin and McConnell appearing together, Moore said: “it’s inevitable.”

“Will it be a sign to everybody in the state that the party is united? Sure it will,” he said. “I look forward to it.”

___

Associated Press reporter Bruce Schreiner contributed reporting from Edgewood, Kentucky.

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