The Louisville, Kentucky, businessman running against the Senate Republican leader says McConnell, in a private meeting in his office, urged Bevin to run against Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth in 2012.
"He was trying to get me to run. I met with him, in person, at his request," Bevin said. "Now, I'm the guy who went rogue. He resents the fact that I would dare to challenge him."
But like several stories surrounding Bevin these days, this one is disputed. Josh Holmes, McConnell's former chief of staff and now his campaign adviser, said he attended that 2011 meeting in McConnell's office. He said Bevin asked for the meeting and McConnell did not tell him to run.
"It was a straight meet and greet, as he does with any number of Kentuckians on a day-to-day basis," Holmes said. "The problem with this guy ... he has no commitment to truth or fact. He will say absolutely anything."
It's one of several stories about Bevin that McConnell and his allies have used to question Bevin's honesty in the run-up to their May 20 Republican primary. The Kentucky race is the marquee contest of the 2014 midterm elections, in which all 435 House seats and 36 in the Senate will be on the ballots. The winner of the GOP primary likely will face Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who has big names like former President Bill Clinton behind her.
McConnell has been gathering campaign cash and allegations against Bevin. They include Bevin's caught-on-camera comments supporting the legalization of cockfighting, a bogus claim on his LinkedIn page that implied he had a degree from MIT and a 2008 report from Bevin's investment firm that called the federal bailout a "positive development."
But three weeks away from the primary, Bevin says all of these stories are designed to distract voters from what he says are the real issues of the campaign: jobs and the economy. Bevin said his cockfighting comments — that it was a "bad idea" to "criminalize behavior" such as cockfighting that is part of the state's heritage — were made in the context of state's rights. He said he has a certificate from an MIT executive education program and said his LinkedIn page has never called it a degree. And he said the 2008 report was written by his chief financial officer and was not a statement of his views on the federal bailout.
Now, after weeks of defending himself, Bevin is back on the attack. He said he will announce a detailed jobs plan this week after a local newspaper reported that McConnell said it was "not my job" to bring jobs to a rural Kentucky county. It's a strategy modeled after Grimes, who has been touting her own jobs plan while criticizing McConnell for not having one of his own.
"I don't subscribe to that theory that it means Matt Bevin is some kind of storyteller," said David Dickerson, 61, a Bevin supporter in Glasgow. "I look at what a man does, not what he says. And Matt Bevin creates jobs."
But some Kentucky Republicans say all Bevin has done is divide the party and force McConnell to spend money instead of focusing on Grimes. Hunter Bates, McConnell's former chief of staff who is now a consultant, said Bevin reached out to him when he was considering challenging McConnell.
"I said, 'You're crazy.' Basically everything that I predicted to him has happened," Bates said. "Anybody telling him it was going to be bad, he interpreted it as a great sign of his own strength."
For Bevin, comments like that are "just noise."
"It's like the echo chamber of the media. They love it because it is titillating, it's amusing, it's fun," he said. "At the end of the day the voters out there in Kentucky, they want someone out there who will fight for them, not come around every six years and pretend to be their friend."
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