FreedomWorks on Wednesday endorsed tea party-backed Kentucky businessman Matt Bevin in his effort to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the state's Republican primary in May.
"We look at two fundamental criteria when we get involved in a race," the organization's president, Matt Kibbe, told The Louisville Courier-Journal.
"First is the quality of a candidate, their governing philosophy and whether or not they have the practical skills to win and we find Matt to be an exceptional candidate."
"The other criteria is a little bit different, because we work as a grassroots service center — and when we get involved in a race, we think we’re effective when the grassroots community is united in a fight and the feedback we have gotten from activists on the ground all over Kentucky, is they want to elect Matt Bevin," Kibbe said.
He said that FreedomWorks planned to spend as much as $500,000 to help Bevin unseat McConnell.
The group is among several conservative organizations that are backing Bevin, the Courier-Journal reports. Others include the United Kentucky Tea Party, a coalition of tea party organizations around the state, the Senate Conservative’s Fund, and the Madison Project.
McConnell, 71, who is seeking his sixth Senate term, is leading Bevin by 22 points among the state's voters, 53-31 percent, in the latest Human Events/Gravis poll, The Christian Science Monitor Reports.
He also has out-fundraised Bevin — $17 million through the third quarter, versus Bevin's $1.1 million — and the businessman has put up a $600,000 loan for his effort, the Courier-Journal reports.
"That's one of the reasons we're getting involved," Kibbe told the newspaper. "We want to shed more light on Matt Bevin and try to equalize that spending gap.
"What is most interesting is given Mitch McConnell's war chest, how vulnerable he is in a very Republican state to his Democratic challenger."
The winner of the GOP primary will face the Democratic front-runner, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, in November.
FreedomWorks also endorsed Bevin with a blog post of McConnell's "Top 10 Bad Votes."
These included McConnell's vote to end debate in October that allowed Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid to insert funding for Obamacare into the continuing resolution to finance the federal government; his vote last January on the fiscal-cliff deal; and the minority leader's 2008 support for the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street via the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
In response to the Bevin endorsement, McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore told the Courier-Journal: "Freedomworks was a constructive partner in the conservative movement and had been supportive of Senator McConnell's efforts to stop Obamacare and protect the First Amendment when many organizations were afraid to speak out, but internal problems unfortunately have changed their focus from conservative reform to conservative cannibalism in order to pay the bills.
"So, today, instead of standing with Kentucky conservatives, a group that used to pride itself on grassroots empowerment has endorsed a self-funding New England millionaire who takes taxpayer bailouts and falsely claims he attended MIT," Moore said in a statement.
Bevin, 47, who was born in Shelburne, N.H., changed his LinkedIn page last year after the McConnell campaign challenged whether he had graduated from a program affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
School officials said the three-week seminar Bevin attended had no formal ties to the university, The Hill reports.
Also on Wednesday, the McConnell campaign stepped up his re-election effort with a new television spot
featuring a throat cancer survivor who praised the minority leader for helping sick workers at a uranium enrichment plant.
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