Why is Sen. Mitch McConnell slamming tea party foe?

Mitch McConnell is striking early at tea party rival Matt Bevin, who scored points of his own at Kentucky's storied Fancy Farms political picnic this weekend. Facing a two-front race, the senator is out to avoid being squeezed by both sides.

Lance Dennee/AP
Matt Bevin of Louisville, Ky., speaks during the 133rd Annual Fancy Farm picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., on Saturday. Mr. Bevin, a Louisville businessman, will face off against incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell in the GOP primary election next year.
Stephen Lance Dennee/AP
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky waits to speak during the 133rd Annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., on Saturday.

Senate minority leader MItch McConnell has a new ad out Monday that hits hard at a Kentucky Senate election opponent. But the opponent in question isn’t Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. It’s Matt Bevin, a tea-party-supported candidate who’s running against Senator McConnell in the Republican primary.

Hmm. Is Team McConnell worried that Mr. Bevin, a wealthy Louisville businessman, was impressive at the big Fancy Farms, Ky., political picnic over the weekend? Veteran political reporter Howard Fineman judged Bevin to be “poised and focused."

Perhaps that’s because Bevin, though a political novice, got off some of the best and toughest lines at the event.

“I’m not going to run to the left of Mitch McConnell. I’m not going to run to the right of Mitch McConnell. I am going to run right over the top of Mitch McConnell,” Bevin said.

Anyway, back to the McConnell attack ad: It repeats the McConnell campaign’s long assertion that the self-described job creator is in fact “Bailout Bevin," due to the fact that he got state money to help rebuild his family bell factory after a devastating fire.

That’s Connecticut state money, by the way, since that’s where the factory is located.

The new ad adds an extra layer to this story, charging that Bevin’s business failed to pay taxes at least eight times, and was the “No. 1 tax delinquent” in its area. Plus, it adds that Bevin failed to pay taxes on a million-dollar home – in Maine.

In case voters don’t get that reference, the ad helpfully zooms across a map of the eastern US, showing just how far Bevin’s house is from Kentucky.

“Bailout Bevin. Not a Kentucky conservative,” says the ad’s text at the end.

If nothing else, the fact that McConnell felt it necessary to spend money to take on his primary opponent so early shows that he’s worried about being squeezed from both sides of the political spectrum.

Most observers still say he will have little difficulty winning the GOP primary. He’s got the support of his fellow Republican Kentucky senator, Rand Paul, himself a tea party star. Bevin is an amateur taking on a hardened pro. According to an Aug. 1 Wenzel Strategies poll, McConnell is leading Bevin by a margin of nearly 3 to 1. 

But polls show McConnell in a tight race with Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic secretary of State. If a nasty primary lowers McConnell’s favorability ratings further, and marks him as vulnerable, that could hurt him in the general election in fall 2014.

The Grimes campaign released a Mellman Group poll on Monday showing her ahead of McConnell by two points, 44 to 42 percent. McConnell has a strongly negative job rating, notes the Grimes-sponsored survey, while Ms. Grimes is in net positive territory.

Of course, Grimes has yet to face a campaign's-worth of negative McConnell ads, which might drive those ratings down. And Kentucky remains a red state. That means Grimes continues to face an uphill battle, no matter what the early numbers show.

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