Matt Bevin has logged more than 47,000 miles on his truck, campaigning across Kentucky for the US Senate seat held for nearly 30 years by Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell. The two will face off in the Republican primary on May 20.
Senator McConnell, the Senate minority leader who is credited with single-handedly building the GOP in Kentucky, holds a considerable lead over his tea party challenger. Mr. Bevin, a businessman and family man with nine children (four adopted from Ethiopia), sat down with the Monitor at Nobles Truck Stop in Corinth last month. Here’s what he had to say about his underdog campaign:
Why he decided to take on the formidable McConnell: “Because the greatest threat to our nation, bar none, is the debt. And you have in someone like him a man who pretends to be a conservative, but has voted and continues to vote for pretty much every expansion of government that has ever come down the line. He’s voted for all these hundreds of billions of dollars in bank bailouts, using taxpayer money. He’s voted for Part D of Medicare. Voted for the Patriot Act. Voted for all these encroachments on our civil liberties and encroachments on our wallets that are unsustainable.”
How the “McConnell machine” has impacted him: “They tried to offer me any number of incentives not to do it [run]. Lots of shiny baubles…. I knew Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell tried to get me years ago to run against John Yarmuth, who was a congressman then. They have this program, ‘the young guns program,’ and I got all the young guns stuff and I was supposed to feel special. I was supposed to feel groomed and special and like you’ve been chosen and brought into the inner sanctum. You’re supposed to kiss the ring and you’re supposed to feel honored. And for a variety of reasons at the time I decided not to do it. But the more I reflected on it afterwards, the more I realized this is part of what’s wrong with us as a society. It’s like I said, what’s at stake is who’s in charge. And it’s not this handful who think they get to self select.”
Why tea party darling Rand Paul, who beat a McConnell-backed competitor in the 2010 primary, had an easier time of it: “He ran for an open seat…. He was still battling uphill against the establishment and the party, but not against an incumbent who was in a position to control the strings. That’s a huge difference…. Never in the history of America, in our entire political process, has a congressional leader, in either the House or the Senate, ever been defeated in a primary…. It’s a lot easier to raise money, if you’re the sitting senator. And it’s a lot easier to keep people from giving [to an opponent], if you’re the sitting senator.”
How he sizes up the race: “This is our race to win. It’s a question of whether we can martial the sentiment in order to do so. It’s a function of do people turn out…. I don’t need a lot of votes, I just need to ensure that we turn out the votes that we have. I feel good about it…. Every day I’m out there talking to people. There is a hunger for change. There is a weariness for him.”
On speaking at a rally for cockfighting, which is illegal: “I’ve never been to a cock fight. I don’t support cockfighting. It’s illegal … for a reason, because society does not condone this…. At the same time, there are people who apparently would like to see it legalized, just as there are people who want to legalize the use of various drugs…. It’s their first amendment right to gather and talk about it.”
His views on the future of the tea party movement: “The tea party has always existed. It’s nothing more than people who value the things that this nation was founded on…. And they come out of the woodwork when they feel that their nation is doing them wrong. And maybe it has to do with abolition of slavery…. [Abolitionists] fought for change, and change happened. The same thing happened with women’s suffrage, with the ability of women to vote. They were mocked and ridiculed for having that opinion…. But they didn’t give up because they were right. And the same thing happened when it came to Jim Crow laws…. People rose up then, too…. Throughout history, these are people who are the fabric of America. And they rise up, they serve the purpose that is needed … and then they fade back into the woodwork. They’ve always been there, they’ll always be there. They’re not looking for power, they’re not looking for a party, they’re not looking for fiefdoms. They’re looking to resolve issues…. Today it is the debt of the nation that is causing people to come forward. And then when it’s been addressed to the degree that it can be, they’ll fade right back into the fabric of society whence they came, and where they will always be.”