DYCHE | Bevin's back! - WDRB 41 Louisville News

DYCHE | Bevin's back!

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News: John David Dyche Opinion Graphic News: John David Dyche Opinion Graphic
By John David Dyche
WDRB Contributor

So Matt Bevin is in. The man Mitch McConnell beat by 60 percent to 35 percent in last year's Republican U.S. Senate primary now seeks the GOP nomination for governor.

McConnell did not just defeat Bevin. He embarrassed him with a series of ads branding him as "Bailout Bevin: Not a Kentucky Conservative" and painting him as a tax delinquent and a fraud for criticizing the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) on the campaign trail after having praised it in a report to fund investors.

Bevin did not do himself any favors. His statements after he attended a pro-cockfighting rally made him look dishonest, ridiculous, or both.

Bitter after this brutal introduction to the world of hardball politics, Bevin never expressly endorsed McConnell in the general election campaign against Democrat Alison Lundergan. McConnell managed to beat Grimes in a landslide anyway, leaving her to seek a second term as Secretary of State after having spent her first one running for Senate and raising money in Hollywood and New York.

McConnell is now Senate Majority Leader. Many consider him the country's most powerful elected Republican.

It is therefore a politically curious thing to see an openly anti-McConnell candidate like Bevin seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination. McConnell has indicated that he will not get involved in the GOP governor primary, but there is no way he could want to see Bevin win it.

Having a hostile nuisance like Bevin residing in the Governor's Mansion would make McConnell's political life less pleasant, if not downright miserable in many respects. So while McConnell may not play publicly in the gubernatorial primary, his influence may be felt behind the scenes.

But sabotaging Bevin's bid would not be a simple scenario even for a master like McConnell. He is plenty busy with an even more complicated political situation in Washington, and the fact that Republican governor ballot features four candidates makes it harder to affect the race without risking unintended consequences.

If Bevin was a better politician he would have made his peace with McConnell before now. For example, Rand Paul made a mutually beneficial alliance with McConnell after he had supported Paul's opponent, Trey Grayson, in the 2010 Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Bevin is not Paul as a politician, of course. Had he swallowed his pride and been a Republican team player post-primary last year, however, he would be much better positioned to capitalize on factors (and there definitely are some) favoring his gubernatorial effort.

He is well-heeled and well-known. Bevin apparently has enough money to largely self-fund a credible campaign (although he probably has a good deal less of it than he did before his Senate run). Public polling has showed him with strong name recognition compared to his competition.

Bevin got 125,787 votes against McConnell. That total would have won the last three GOP gubernatorial primaries, each of which involved fewer credible slates that this year's.

His running mate, African-American female Jenean Hampton of Bowling Green, represents a cadre of Tea Party true believers that apparently considers Bevin a messiah of sorts for their sometimes eccentric movement. But another Tea Party deity, U.S. Representative Thomas Massie, has already endorsed Agriculture Commissioner James Comer in the GOP governor contest.

Aside from overcoming his sour grapes attitude toward McConnell, Bevin will have to do some other things to appeal to Kentucky Republicans. He must convince them that he can beat the destined Democratic nominee, Attorney General Jack Conway, and demonstrate knowledge beyond buzzwords on big issues confronting Kentucky.

Comer and former Louisville councilman Hal Heiner have already crossed these two credibility thresholds, although each of them faces his own challenges. Former state Supreme Court justice Will T. Scott has just started arguing his case to Republican primary voters.

Above all, Bevin must avoid, or at least better handle, any embarrassing gaffes and compromising revelations. It is widely believed that McConnell supporters did not exhaust their bounteous mine of opposition research on Bevin last year.

But, as this column has consistently maintained, it would be better for Kentucky Republicans to keep the gubernatorial primary campaign on the high road. That may be asking too much, but a multi-candidate battle for an open seat in Frankfort is a lot different than an upstart trying to dethrone an incumbent poised to assume a top Washington post.

Healthy parties have vigorous primaries that showcase diverse candidates and lots of ideas. Whether in Kentucky for governor or nationally for president, Republicans are having them and Democrats are not.

John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is jddyche@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.

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