As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) runs for a sixth term, polls in Kentucky show the Republican incumbent isn’t especially popular in his state. What we didn’t know until this morning is that even McConnell’s own campaign manager is holding his nose.
Jesse Benton, manager of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign, told a conservative activist in a phone call early this year that he was “holdin’ my nose” to run the race to benefit Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in a 2016 White House run.
“Between you and me, I’m sort of holdin’ my nose for two years because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in ‘16, so that’s my long vision,” Benton says, according to a recording of the call obtained by the blog EconomicPolicyJournal.com.
The original piece from EconomicPolicyJournal.com is online here. The call was recorded by Dennis Fusaro, a former Ron Paul aide, who told the Weekly Standard that both he and Benton were in “one-party consent” states – “meaning only one person on the phone is required to consent to a conversation being recorded.”
If you listen to the audio clip above, the point of the call, recorded in January 2013, deals with allegations that the Ron Paul campaign illegally paid Iowa state legislator Kent Sorenson. Benton is heard on the call saying, “I don’t know anything about that.”
And while that’s certainly interesting, it’s the “holdin’ my nose for two years” part of this that makes the recording a big deal.
For his part, Benton said in email to the Weekly Standard:
“It is truly sick that someone would record a private phone conversation I had out of kindness and use it to try to hurt me. I believe in Senator McConnell and am 100 percent committed to his re-election. Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honors of my life and I look forward to victory in November of 2014.”
You’ll notice that Benton didn’t deny having made the comments. He’s holding his nose for two years, working for McConnell only to help Rand Paul’s presidential campaign, but Benton nevertheless wants the public to believe he also sees his McConnell role as “one of the great honors” of his life.
To borrow a line, there are some bells you can’t un-ring.
Benton joining Team McConnell was always … odd. Ron Paul and Mitch McConnell may both be Republicans, but they’re from very different wings of the party. In fact, this newly released audio clip helps explain what’s long been inexplicable: why Benton took this gig in the first place. Now we know – it’s not because he likes McConnell, because he doesn’t, but because he sees it as a way to bolster the presidential ambitions of Ron Paul’s senator son.
Sarah Durand, a spokesperson for Matt Bevin, McConnell’s primary challenger, said in a statement, “Even Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, thinks something stinks with the Mitch McConnell campaign. His admission that he is ‘holding (his) nose for two years’ while he works for McConnell shows that even McConnell’s top guy realizes that his boss is not a true conservative, and after nearly 30 years of voting for big-government and big-spending bills, does not deserve to be reelected. Fortunately, Kentucky voters have a real conservative in this race that all Republicans can be proud to support – Matt Bevin.”