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Conservative outside group picks a fight with McConnell

A prominent conservative group is no longer setting its sights just electing conservative candidates to the U.S. Senate. Now it’s taking on the man at the very top of the Republican Party – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Senate Conservatives Fund today endorsed McConnell primary opponent Matt Bevin, making this the organization’s highest-profile crusade against moderate and establishment Republicans.

"Matt Bevin is a true conservative who will fight to stop the massive spending, bailouts, and debt that are destroying our country,” SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins wrote in his organization’s endorsement. “He is not afraid to stand up to the establishment and he will do what it takes to stop Obamacare.

Hoskins admitted that “winning this primary won't be easy” over the cash-flush McConnell, who had $10 million in the bank compared to Bevin’s paltry $222,000 he brought in over the last three months, supplemented by his own $600,000. But with the influential conservative group behind him, they could help make up some of the difference.

“Mitch McConnell has the support of the entire Washington establishment and he will do anything to hold on to power,” Hoskins added. “But if people in Kentucky and all across the country rise up and demand something better, we're confident Matt Bevin can win this race."

McConnell still remains the favorite against Bevin, but he faces another strong challenger in Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in the Bluegrass State’s general election, where she’s polling neck and neck with McConnell.

It’s SCF’s second endorsement against incumbent GOP senators so far this cycle, after backing a primary challenger against Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran on Thursday. The influential group, started by now Heritage Foundation president and former Sen. Jim DeMint, has faced criticism from many within the GOP by targeting GOP incumbents – instead of helping the party win back a majority.

But SCF and other groups haven’t been shy about targeting McConnell and other senators they believe are insufficiently conservative, especially if they didn’t back a strategy to defund Obamacare at any cost.

To them, the GOP leader’s work to broker a deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling was the final straw, leaving them without leverage against defunding President Obama’s health-care law.

“Mitch McConnell has left his party powerless. He pressured his Republican colleagues to capitulate and forced them to adopt the untenable position that all government programs must be funded if they are part of current law,” Hoskins told NBC earlier this week. “Republicans no longer have a say because McConnell won’t let them take a stand when it matters. He's made them Republicans in name only.”

McConnell, for his part, has seemed unphased by Bevin and other conservative groups who criticized his willingness to compromise, suggesting he’s more worried about Grimes than Bevin, even if he does get outside support.

The GOP leader told The Hill he hoped his party had learned the lesson the 16-day shutdown had wrought on his party, where polls show they continue to shoulder the brunt of the blame.

“One of my favorite old Kentucky sayings is there’s no education in the second kick of a mule. The first kick of a mule was when we shut the government down in the mid-1990s and the second kick was over the last 16 days,” said McConnell. “There is no education in the second kick of a mule. There will not be a government shutdown.”

*** UPDATE *** McConnell's campaign has responded: "Matt Bevin now has the dubious honor of standing with a self-serving DC fundraising group that made its name by recruiting and promoting unelectable candidates that ensured Barack Obama a majority in the Senate.  They clearly care less about Kentuckians than they do about their reputation for supporting laughably bad candidates. Now they can add a New England bailout recipient who claims he went to MIT to their roster of notable failures."