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Kentucky ads begin as McConnell primary opponent jumps in

Mitch McConnell already faces a tough general election challenge, but with the Senate minority leader getting his first primary challenger today, the Kentucky Republican is having to fight back against both the left and the right.

With wealthy investment banker Matt Bevin kicking off his campaign today, McConnell swiftly launched a harsh TV ad against his new opponent. But Bevin quickly fired back with his own commercial, saying the senior senator’s 30 years in Washington is enough.

The GOP leader’s quick response is evidence they aren’t taking anything for granted though, and in the new ad McConnell’s massive re-election operation wasted no time in taking the gloves off against Bevin on his first day on the campaign trail in a six-figure ad buy that will heavily target GOP audiences.

McConnell’s ad brands his opponent “Bailout Bevin,” criticizing him for getting $200,000 in Connecticut state grants to help his company rebuild after a 2012 fire, failing to pay taxes, and for liens against his company.

Bevin is president of the Connecticut-based bell foundry Bevin Brothers Manufacturing, which recently resumed production after last year’s fire, and also a partner at Waycross Partners investment-management firm. He’s lived in Louisville since 1999, but McConnell’s campaign says his ties to the state are thin.

The GOP leader’s allies boast they have plenty of ammo where that came from to use against Bevin, and this first salvo from Team McConnell is likely just the tip of the iceberg in what will be a long, expensive and nasty campaign, in both the primary and the general election.

Bevin’s campaign responded with its first TV ad, painting McConnell as a relic with a flimsy conservative record, with Bevin asking “after 30 years in Washington, is his leadership really the best we can do?” 

An announcer points out that “McConnell has voted for higher taxes, bailouts, debt ceiling increases, congressional pay raises, and liberal judges,” while touting Bevin as a “successful businessman, father of nine, military veteran,” and conservative Republican.

With several statewide announcement stops this week, Bevin’s touting support from the United Kentucky Tea Party, and at least one prominent national conservative group said Wednesday morning they were open to backing McConnell’s challenger.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, once led by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint to back conservatives and oust incumbents in primaries, said in a statement that their super PAC would consider supporting Bevin, after calling McConnell the “least electable Republican senator running for reelection in 2014” earlier this month.

"We're open to supporting Matt Bevin's campaign and will be waiting to see if the grassroots in Kentucky unite behind him,” said SCF executive director Matt Hoskins. “The only way to defeat Mitch McConnell is to inspire the grassroots to rise up and fight for their freedoms. We will also be watching to see if Mitch McConnell debates the issues or if he conducts a dirty smear campaign. If McConnell doesn't respect the voters enough to defend his own record, he doesn't deserve to be in the Senate."

Even with outside help, Bevin still has an uphill task. The GOP leader has built a robust campaign operation, employing 20 different political consulting firms. Over the past three months, he raised over $2.2 million and has $9.6 million in the bank. While re-election support has been soft in both public and private polls, the powerful leader still has the upper hand early on in the primary, and in the general election in a state where President Obama got just 38 percent of the vote in 2012.