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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- This year's Fancy Farm picnic was billed as the first showdown between Sen. Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
But the event instead turned up the heat between McConnell and an opponent who was unknown just weeks ago.
Matt Bevin is challenging McConnell in the May Republican primary. And now, after Fancy Farm, Bevin is being seen as a real contender, and McConnell is going after him.
"I don't intend to run to the right of Mitch McConnell. I don't intend to run to the left of Mitch McConnell. I intend to run straight over the top of Mitch McConnell and right into the U.S. Senate," said Bevin during his Saturday speech at Fancy Farm.
It was his first time on the big stage, but observers say Matt Bevin passed his first big test at Fancy Farm, establishing himself as a serious candidate.
"I think that he gained a lot of people to take a second look at him, which I think is going to be extremely problematic for McConnell in the weeks to come," said Dewey Clayton, political science professor at U of L.
But as Bevin tries to maintain that momentum, the McConnell campaign is on the attack, again raising questions about Bevin's past with a new ad.
"Matt 'Bailout' Bevin. He's not a Kentucky conservative. Bevin says 'I have no tax delinquency problem nor have I ever.' But Bevin's business failed to pay taxes at least eight times," declares the ad, which will air on cable stations across the state.
Bevin calls the ads false and misleading.
"The basis of these is false. He knows them to be false. I took over a company that had tax problems. I'm the one who paid them," said Bevin.
But political observers say the McConnell ad demonstrates Bevin's challenge. He'll need to turn his momentum into money to fight off McConnell's attacks.
"He's beginning to define Bevin, and that's going to be problematic for Bevin if he can't raise the money and be able to refute the accusations that will continue to be hurled at him," said Clayton.
"Bevin, as we've said, passed a critical threshold here. At Fancy Farm, you can disqualify yourself. But now he's got some hard and immediate tests that he's going to have to do well on," said WDRB conservative columnist John David Dyche.
Not to be outdone, Grimes today sent an email to her supporters claiming victory over McConnell at Fancy Farm.
Kentucky's Senior Senator is having to defend himself from attacks from both Grimes on his left and Bevin on his right.