Jesse Benton, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager, said he is “100 percent committed” to McConnell’s re-election after a recording surfaced Thursday of Benton saying he’s holding his nose for two years to help Sen. Rand Paul’s political ambitions in 2016.
EconomicPolicyJournal.com released a recorded phone conversation between Benton and Dennis Fusaro, a former aide in Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, regarding a $30,000 check given to an Iowa state senator who switched his endorsement to Paul from Michelle Bachmann during the 2012 Iowa caucuses.
Benton, chairman of Paul’s 2012 campaign and a spokesman in the former Texas congressman’s 2008 presidential run, denied any knowledge of the alleged payment in the recording and asked Fusaro to mail him evidence.
During a casual discussion at the end of the recording, Benton told Fusaro, “Between you and me, I’m sort of holding my nose for two years because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in ’16. That’s my long vision.”
Rand Paul, a Republican senator in his first term, has expressed interest in running for president in 2016.
In a statement, Benton said he looks forward to a McConnell victory next year and called his selection as McConnell’s campaign manager “one of the great honors of my life.”
“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,” he said.
If there was any doubt that Benton would continue leading McConnell’s re-election efforts, the campaign released a photo of the two arm-in-arm with Benton pinching his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Another picture shows the pair smiling and holding their noses with the caption, “McConnell responds to campaign mgr's private phone conversation.”
Next year’s midterm election is expected to be one of the premiere races in the country. McConnell has a primary challenger in tea party-backed investment executive Matt Bevin and, if he wins, will likely face Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in the fall.
Polls on both sides of the political spectrum show a close race between McConnell and Grimes. A GOP survey shows McConnell with an 8-point advantage on Grimes while a recent Democratic poll shows Grimes with a slight lead.
The margin between McConnell and Bevin is nearly 40 percent according to the Republican poll.
“Even Mitch McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, thinks something stinks with the Mitch McConnell campaign,” said Bevin spokeswoman Sarah Durand.
“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.”
Grimes’ campaign declined to comment on the recording.