As a Wednesday deadline passed, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin had not signed a letter pledging support for his party’s nominee after the May 20 primary election.
Republican Party of Kentucky Chairman Steve Robertson said Thursday he had not heard from Bevin after leaving “a very detailed message” regarding the unity letter on the GOP challenger’s cell phone Tuesday.
The letter, which seeks each candidate’s “full endorsement and support to the Republican nominee” after the primary, was issued early Wednesday and due by close of business that day, Robertson said.
Bevin, a Louisville businessman with some tea party backing, will face U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has held a double-digit lead in various polls. Robertson said he received a signed copy of the letter from McConnell.
The state Republican Party would “absolutely” accept Bevin’s signature past Wednesday’s deadline, Robertson said.
“It’s not an unrealistic desire of a political party to have its primary candidates pledge to support the nominee in the fall, and I have the same expectation of Sen. McConnell as I do of Matt Bevin,” Robertson said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.
Sarah Durand, Bevin’s campaign spokeswoman, said Bevin received a copy of the unity letter around noon Wednesday. She declined to comment on RPK’s expectation to have the letter signed by close of business Wednesday.
Durand said she would discuss with Bevin whether he would sign the document when he returned Friday from a campaign tour through parts of Eastern Kentucky.
“Matt is traveling all around the state, campaigning, meeting voters every single day. That’s his number one priority right now,” Durand said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “… I don’t think he’s even had a chance to look at (the letter).”
The GOP unity letter has precedent. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson signed a similar pledge before their primary battle in 2010, Robertson said, noting he recalls the candidates’ signatures returning “pretty quick.”
“For Sen. Paul, I know for him the fact that steps to unify being taken before the primary were very valuable to him,” Robertson said. “He felt it important and he felt that it was helpful when he could stand after the primary knowing that his opponent in that primary had pledged to support him in the general.”
Coalescing nearly 1.2 million registered Republicans behind the party’s candidate is also important following a contentious primary, he added.
“I’d be disappointed,” Robertson said when asked about the possibility of Bevin not signing the unity letter. “The last thing that anyone wants to do is make it easier for President (Barack) Obama to continue doing what he’s doing, and that’s the impetus for why we’re trying to bring this thing together.
“… We do not want to strengthen the position of President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., and if Alison Grimes wins in November, that’s what the result will be.”
Allison Moore, McConnell’s campaign spokeswoman, offered harsh criticism for the GOP challenger’s failure, at this point, to publicly back whomever gets the Republican nomination in less than three weeks.
“Many Kentuckians have wondered whether Matt Bevin’s entire candidacy has been a front for Barack Obama’s allies in Washington, and the fact that Bevin has yet to commit to backing the Republican opponent to their hand picked candidate is making their case,” Moore said in a statement to The State Journal. “An actual conservative would not hesitate for a single second to commit to supporting the winner of Kentucky’s Republican primary.”
Jonathan Hurst, senior advisor to the Grimes campaign, welcomed Bevin’s supporters to the Democratic frontrunner’s camp “if the primary doesn’t work out for him.”
“Republicans, Democrats and independents in all corners of the commonwealth are tired of Mitch McConnell’s 30-year Washington reign and ready to rally around a fresh face and vision for Kentucky’s economic future,” Hurst said in an emailed statement. “They need to look no further than Alison Lundergan Grimes.”