U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint put himself at odds with Kentucky's Sen. Mitch McConnell on Wednesday by endorsing an antiestablishment candidate for U.S. Senate in Kentucky.
DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, gave his support to political outsider Rand Paul, one day after Minority Floor Leader McConnell endorsed establishment candidate Trey Grayson.
"I'm endorsing Rand Paul because he's a true conservative who will stand up to the Washington establishment," said DeMint, who released a written statement saying he still supports McConnell as floor leader even though the two disagree on Kentucky's Senate race.
"Rand has been running on the issues that matter since the beginning of this campaign, DeMint said in the statement. "He's a strong advocate for balanced budgets. He wants to end the culture of earmarks. He supports term limits. And he's 100 percent pro-life."
Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon, and Grayson, Kentucky's secretary of state, are among five Republicans running in the May 18 primary to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, the 78-year-old sports icon who opted not to seek a third term.
Bunning, who was considered politically vulnerable to potential Democratic challengers, blamed McConnell and other Republican leaders with drying up his fundraising and forcing him out of a re-election bid. When Bunning bowed out, the Republican establishment got behind Grayson. A chafed Bunning endorsed Paul, calling him "a man of integrity" and "the only true conservative" in the race.
Paul is the son of Texas congressman Ron Paul, who made an unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. The younger Paul has capitalized on his father's political base.
Besides McConnell, Grayson has won endorsements from former Vice President Dick Cheney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He also has the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, a revered political figure in heavily Republican southeastern Kentucky.
"I rarely endorse in primaries, but these are critical times," McConnell said in a television ad airing on behalf of Grayson. "President Obama's spending threatens to destroy more jobs. I know Trey Grayson, and trust him. We need Trey's conservative leadership to help turn back the Obama agenda."
Paul has endorsements from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes and evangelical leader James Dobson. Dobson had initially endorsed Grayson, but rescinded that endorsement on Monday, saying he had been mislead about Paul's stands on abortion and other social issues.
Paul has been airing a TV ad, complete with a menacing photo of Grayson and shadowy figures dancing across the background, lambasting Grayson and the Washington establishment for deceiving Dobson. Dobson called the initial Grayson endorsement "an embarrassing mistake."
Dobson, an outspoken abortion foe, hasn't identified who gave him the misleading information.
The Paul campaign considered both the Dobson and DeMint endorsements key with less than two weeks remaining before the primary. Not only could they sway undecided voters, but they could trigger a wave of new donors to the campaign.
As chairman of the Senate Conservative Fund, DeMint has endorsed several other conservative U.S. Senate candidates, including Florida Republican Marco Rubio, who, like Paul, is the tea party favorite. The PAC supports conservative candidates who are often overlooked or even opposed by the Washington establishment.
The PAC is also supporting Senate candidates Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Chuck DeVore in California, and Ken Buck in Colorado.
"Our campaign is truly honored to receive the endorsement of Senator Jim DeMint," Paul campaign manager David Adams said in a statement. "Our Kentucky values are under fire from career politicians in Washington, but Senator DeMint is one of the bold exceptions who stands up to big government and works to defend our freedom."
Grayson campaign manager Nate Hodson downplayed DeMint's endorsement.
"The endorsements of Senator Mitch McConnell, Congressman Hal Rogers, and over 70 other Kentucky leaders are much more meaningful to Kentuckians," Hodson said in a written statement.
© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.