Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign manager Jesse Benton has admitted he faces a tough battle to convince his boss that he is sincere about getting him re-elected.
Benton had been Sen. Rand Paul's campaign manager in 2010, and Ron Paul's 2012 presidential campaign manager, but after reports came out last week
about him telling a political analyst that he was "sort of holding my nose for two years" with McConnell,
many started questioning his intentions for the Kentucky incumbent's campaign.
Benton told WHAS-TV in Louisville
that he had to have "one of the hardest conversations I've ever had" with McConnell.
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"He wasn't angry, he wasn't upset, but I could see the hurt in his eyes," Benton continued. "He asked me how I could say something like that, and I just didn't have a good answer. I apologized from the bottom of my heart and I told him it's not what I believe and that I am here because I believe in him."
After the conversation, McConnell's campaign issued a picture of the senator and Benton each holding their noses captioned, "Nothing smells worse than Obamacare," a picture that Benton described as "Mitch wanting to show he was standing behind me."
Benton admitted that that his comment "was just such a stupid thing to say," and acknowledged the controversy could damage McConnell's alliance with Rand Paul and tea party groups.
McConnell is facing tough challenges to hold his seat from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Secretary of State, and tea party-backed Republican challenger Matt Bevin. Benton said he is bracing for personal attacks after his comments were made public.
"There is a huge microscope on us," Benton said. "We're a constant target. And that's what Mitch told me yesterday. He told me we've got to be ready for even more of this stuff. I would personally never go after another staffer, but some of the folks that are against us apparently don't hold themselves to the same standard."
Bevin's campaign jumped on the news, with spokeswoman Sarah Durand saying that the admission "shows that even McConnell's top guy realizes that his boss is not a true conservative."
Benton said Durand's comments upset him. "It's off-putting that people who profess to be Republicans and conservatives seem to just jump on my difficult situation with such glee."
Benton made the comments during a private phone call with Dennis Fusaro, with whom he had worked on Ron Paul's presidential campaign, reports The National Journal
. He did not know Fusaro recorded the conversation.
The scandal could also cause McConnell to worry more about fighting off Bevin's new challenge for tea party supporters, instead of concentrating on Grimes, considered by most to be McConnell's real challenger, The Journal noted.
Grimes not only already holds a state office, but she is the daughter of a former state party chairman and early polls show she and McConnell are already tied among voters.
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