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Kentucky Senate candidate Matt Bevin caught backing cockfighting

Kentucky Senate candidate Matt Bevin has struggled for weeks to explain his appearance at a pro-cockfighting rally. Now he's caught on tape.

Updated with Matt Bevin's statement below.

Matt Bevin’s Kentucky campaign is officially chicken fried.

Bevin, who is challenging Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for the Republican Senate nomination, has spent weeks struggling to explain his appearance at a pro-cockfighting event on March 29. After a series of vague denials, video emerged on Thursday of Bevin personally defending legalized cockfighting – a sport in which chickens fight to the death – at the rally.

The revelation is another blow to Bevin's campaign, which has struggled to gain traction despite enthusiastic support from conservative commentators like Glenn Beck and a variety of national tea party groups.  

The cockfighting event became a national news story after a Kentucky paper reported earlier this month that Bevin had spoke at the gathering, which organizers told the press was specifically devoted to legalizing cockfighting. Bevin maintained that the rally was not about cockfighting, that he was “the first speaker” at the event and quickly left, and that he was unaware what else was discussed.

A TV report on cockfighting by local station WAVE 3 News, however, includes video of the rally that calls all three of Bevin's claims into question. For one, Bevin was not the first speaker -- he was preceded by American Gamefowl Defense Director Dave Devereaux, who reportedly told the crowd in his remarks that the event was held for “the sole purpose of legalizing gamecock fighting at the state level.”

After Bevin spoke next, Deveraux asked him whether he would “vote to support the effort to legalize gamecock fighting in the state of Kentucky.”

"I support the people of Kentucky exercising their right, because it is our right to decide what it is that we want to do, and not the federal government's,” Bevin responded. “Criminalizing behavior, if it's part of the heritage of this state, is in my opinion a bad idea. A bad idea. I will not support it.”

Bevin talked to msnbc about the event earlier this month at an event in Louisville. In the interview, he denied the gathering was organized around cockfighting and strongly implied that he didn’t know the topic was broached at all.

“It wasn’t a cockfighting event, that’s where you all need to start telling the truth about what happened,” Bevin said. “This was a gathering of people talking about states rights. I don’t know what they talked about other then the fact that when I was there, I talked about my campaign.” 

He also called attacks related to it “a lie" and blamed his opponent for stoking the fire.

“This is what McConnell does, he makes up lies, he spins the fluff, and all of it is intended to distract people that aren’t thoughtful enough to actually dig under the hood and ask hard questions,” he said.

But asked by a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal on Thursday whether he wanted to change his story in light of the new report, Bevin admitted he was unsure whether he had personally said the phrase “cockfighting” at any time during the event.

"I don't honestly, I don't know," he said. "I mean not as part of my commentary, no."

Bevin told WAVE 3 that he couldn’t remember what he said in response to Devereaux’s question about cockfighting either.

His campaign offered up no new information or clarification when asked by msnbc for comment.  

“This is just a rehash of an old story,” campaign spokeswoman Sarah Durand said in an e-mail. “Primary voters will have a choice on May 20th between a veteran, small business owner, father of nine who will fight for our conservative values in Matt Bevin, or more of the same old liberal policies from Mitch McConnell. Since McConnell can't defend his record, all he can do is try to make his opponent look worse. Instead, we should be addressing the core issue -- that the federal government has gotten too big, too intrusive, and needs to be reined in."

The McConnell campaign, which criticized Bevin over the episode earlier this month, is already tearing into Bevin over the latest news.

"Matt Bevin's cockfighting episode will go down as one of the most disqualifying moments in Kentucky political history,” McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore said in an e-mail. “Twenty years from now, we will all remember the time when the East Coast con-man thought so little of Kentuckians that he pathologically lied to us about absolutely everything until an undercover camera caught him red-handed at a cockfighting rally."

Update: In a statement, Matt Bevin apologized for attending the rally. He added that while he opposed "cockfighting or any other forms of animal cruelty," he also opposed efforts by the federal government to ban the practice on the basis of states rights.

Bevin's full statement below:

"A month ago, I was invited to Corbin to discuss my candidacy at an event where folks had gathered to address various states' rights issues. I am genuinely sorry that my attendance at an event which, other than my comments, appears to have primarily involved a discussion of cockfighting, has created concern on the part of many Kentucky voters. I understand that concern. I am not and have never been, a supporter of cockfighting or any other forms of animal cruelty. I am, however, a strong supporter of states' rights. Regardless of any personal views on this issue, animal rights are not an enumerated power granted to the federal government under the Constitution. Such decisions should be left to each state to decide. I made the decision to speak at the gathering in Corbin because I support our 10th Amendment rights, not because I support or condone every topic discussed at the event."