Politics & Government

Mitch McConnell to Kentucky Gov. Bevin: Stay home and run for re-election

Kentucky Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin, left, jokes with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell Saturday August 1, 2015 during the Graves County Republican breakfast in Mayfield.  Photo by John Flavell
Kentucky Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Bevin, left, jokes with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell Saturday August 1, 2015 during the Graves County Republican breakfast in Mayfield. Photo by John Flavell The Herald-Leader

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is making it clear: He wants Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a potential re-election rival, to stay home.

Bevin, a Republican, has yet to say whether he will seek a second term in 2019, prompting speculation he's interested in unseating McConnell in 2020 — or that he's hoping for a Trump administration gig.

McConnell made it plain in an interview with the Lexington Herald-Leader that he'd prefer Bevin run for another four year term as governor.

"I hope he runs for re-election and finishes the job by serving the full eight years that are allowed under the Kentucky Constitution," said McConnell, patriarch of the Kentucky Republican Party.

"I will say I think the governor's done a terrific job ... I'm very much in his corner," said McConnell, who said he would not speculate on a re-match with Bevin.

McConnell trounced Bevin in a contentious 2014 Republican Senate primary. Bevin was backed by the tea party, a grassroots movement usually identified with conservative causes.

The two men have since made amends, but their relationship has never been close.

Governor Matt Bevin gave a couple minutes to press, answering questions about his thoughts on the relationship between U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump before entering the Kentucky Exposition Center for the 54

McConnell rarely says anything without a purpose and political observers parsed his words on Bevin for clues about the senator's message and meaning.

Former McConnell staffer Scott Jennings said the sole message is that McConnell, who has already launched his 2020 re-election campaign, believes Bevin has been an effective governor.

"In McConnell's eyes, Bevin is taking all the right steps to get the state government back on track," Jennings said. "I've heard him say he's waiting for Matt Bevin to do something he doesn't like — and he's still waiting."

Bevin can point to the state hitting the lowest unemployment rate in its history and jobs returning, Jennings said.

"We are be-bopping along and McConnell believes Bevin has been an integral part of that," Jennings said.

The Bevin administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Bevin's appearances on the conservative political circuit, including trips to Koch Brothers summits and appearances at events for governors and gubernatorial candidates in other states, have stoked speculation about his political plans from Frankfort to Washington.

He has not yet announced whether he intends to run for re-election as governor next year, freezing the Republican field in the process.

"The incentive for Bevin if he is considering other options is to delay as long as possible,” said Scott Lasley, a political science professor at Western Kentucky University. “The only reason to declare early is to clear the field or get a head start on fundraising, which isn’t a big deal here.”

Some political observers have suggested Bevin is interested in a job with the Trump administration. He is close with Vice President Mike Pence, the former governor of Indiana, and there has been considerable turnover within the administration.

McConnell has made it clear he's all in for a run for his seventh term in the Senate and has already raised nearly $2.7 million.

"You can start too late, but never too early," Jennings said of McConnell's early launch. "That's been true of McConnell for the 20 years I've been around him. That, and if you throw a pebble at me, I will throw a boulder at you."

McConnell declined to say anything about Kentucky Sports Radio founder and host Matt Jones, who suggested earlier this year that he could beat McConnell.

"I don't have any observations about Matt Jones," McConnell said in the interview, chuckling heartily.

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark
Daniel Desrochers: 502-875-3793, @drdesrochers