PIKEVILLE — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin introduced himself to Eastern Kentucky during a Friday stop in Pikeville, and wasted no time before going on the offensive against his opponent, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Bevin, of Louisville, is a successful businessman, Army veteran and father of nine, who filed his paperwork Wednesday to challenge McConnell in the May primary. He is widely viewed as the Tea Party candidate in the race, though his campaign materials bill him simply as a “conservative Republican.”
At Friday morning’s stop at the Landmark Inn, Bevin came out firing, saying McConnell has been in Washington too long and has become too enamored with his own power, that he no longer represents average Kentuckians.
“Mitch McConnell has been in the U.S. Senate for 30 years,” Bevin said. “Thirty years, that’s a long, long time. And I want people to understand this, this is not about Mitch McConnell as a person, at all. This about Mitch McConnell as a long, long, long serving career politician, and his long, long, long voting record. That’s what this is about.
“After 30 years in Washington, it’s clear to me and it’s clear to people I’ve met around the commonwealth of Kentucky: Mitch McConnell has lost touch with our state. He’s lost touch with our people. He’s lost touch with our values.”
Bevin also appeared to take aim at some factions in his own party, who he said are just as responsible for fiscal troubles in Washington.
“This big-spending, over-spending, big government has been a bipartisan problem for years,” Bevin said. “There is no party that owns this. And, sadly, Mitch McConnell has been willing to commit spending money that we do not have, no matter who the president has been.”
Bevin contrasted his conservative beliefs with McConnell’s voting record, which he said does not represent Kentucky’s interests. Saying McConnell had voted for debt ceiling increases, liberal judges and earmark spending, he said the senator’s actions are in direct contrast to conservative principles. He made special note of McConnell voting five times to raise Congressional pay, before promising he would never do the same.
“Anyone who’s been in Washington long enough to think that’s even necessary has been in Washington too long,” Bevin said.
Bevin said, if elected, he would fight for a permanent ban on earmark spending. He said while any individual project might not seem like a lot, compared to trillions in national debt, he said collectively, the pork-barrel system creates a government addicted to out-of-control spending.
“It’s just a bridge here, just a sculpture park there, a ballpark in the other place,” Bevin said. “I was in Owensboro yesterday and they were reminding me of this boondoggle project of tennis courts that cost 40 million bucks, another little earmark. That’s all great. It doesn’t seem like it’s that much, when you look and compare it to the trillions. But it is the dirty grease that allows bad legislation to make its way through Congress, and that ends up saddling us with the kind of stuff that really robs us.”
Bevin received his biggest applause of the morning by calling for a complete repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly known as “Obamacare.” He said though his opponent has made promises to do the same, McConnell has not shown a willingness to do what it takes to get it done.
“When he has had a chance to allow the voice to be heard, he has failed to do so,” Bevin said. “I say, I’m tired of the broken promises. I’m tired of the empty rhetoric. He can wheel around a dolly with a big stack of paper on it and a red ribbon, and take pictures next to it, and talk about how he’s going to yank out Obamacare, root and branch. But it’s just so much baloney. It’s so much baloney. I think we recognize it as such. It’s time to stop leading from behind.”
When asked how he would reconcile some of his non-negotiable views with voter frustration over the inability of the parties to work together on much of anything in Washington, Bevin said he takes his cues from the example set by the Founding Fathers.
“If you go back to the beginning of this country, if you read the Federalist Papers, Hamilton and Jefferson disagreed on almost everything …” Bevin said. “They disagreed on just about everything, but both of them had the capacity to think, and they took time to do it. Both of them had the ability to make logical arguments for what they believed, and both of them did it. And each of them also took time to listen to each other. And at the end of the day, what we need is a little more thoughtful dialogue and a little less posturing, a little less ‘us versus them,’ like if they win, we’ve lost, so we’ve got to make sure we win at any cost.
“That’s what’s killing us, but it’s that type of bureaucracy that comes from having people in Washington for 30-plus years. Mitch McConnell has been there too long. He and Harry Reid are not helping America. They are playing games with each others, and they’re playing games with our lives.”
Bevin’s remarks were well-received by some in the audience. Justin Prater, a Pikeville resident who describes his views as libertarian, said he wanted to hear what Bevin had to say because he has been looking for an alternative to McConnell.
“I think McConnell does nothing,” Prater said. “He just cares about what is polling on CNN. He wasn’t concerned about the debt when he was doing the spending, but now that he’s not the one in charge of the spending, he is suddenly concerned about it.”
Prater said he believes McConnell is more concerned with representing the interests of the “Golden Triangle” of Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky, than he is about Eastern Kentucky. He said he has been disappointed with the senator’s infrequent trips to the mountains.
“If it’s not a Lincoln Dinner or a fund-raising trip, he’s never here,” Prater said.
But not everyone who attended was enamored with Bevin. Zach Horn, of Inez, described himself as vice chairman of East Kentucky Young Republicans and said that he had been “sent to this event” to get out another side of the story. While he said he likes Bevin as a person and a politician, he thinks McConnell’s leadership is too valuable to lose, at a time when he sees the Obama administration as promoting policies counter to Eastern Kentucky interests.
“Sen. McConnell has been our only shield,” Horn said. “I don’t believe when it’s Hail Mary time, you take out your star quarterback.”
Frank Thornsbury, of Paintsville, attended the event with Horn and agreed with his views.
“I support Mitch McConnell because I’m conservative and he’s conservative,” Thornsbury said. “I believe if you’re a friend of coal, you should be friends with Mitch McConnell.”
Bevin told those who gathered to hear him speak that he has no illusions that victory against a powerful foe would come easy, but seemed to view conventional wisdom that his campaign is a longshot as a challenge.
“This will be an uphill journey,” Bevin said. “Don’t let me kid you, this is going to be a tough haul. Never in the history of the United States has the political leader of a party been defeated in a primary. It’s never happened. But never has it been so important to make that happen. The time to make history is right now, and the place to make it happen is right here in the commonwealth of Kentucky. It’s up to us. We can do this.”