When facing a difficult re-election fight, it's probably best if your own campaign team stands united behind you.
Unfortunately, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) doesn't appear to have that luxury, after his own campaign manager was caught on tape saying he was "holding his nose" while working for the Senate's top Republican.
Jesse Benton, McConnell's campaign head, held that same position under Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) during Paul's insurgent run to Congress in 2010. In a recorded phone conversation made by former Ron Paul aide Dennis Fusaro and obtained by Economic Policy Journal, Benton remarked offhandedly that he was only working for McConnell because he thought it would benefit his old boss down the road.
"Between you and me, I'm sorta holding my nose for two years, cause what we're doing here is gonna be a big benefit to Rand in '16," he said.
Paul is believed to be considering a 2016 White House bid, and early polls have shown him at or near the front of the pack in a GOP presidential primary.
The full recording of the call, which reportedly took place January 19, is below. In it, Fusaro asked Benton about an alleged scheme in which Ron Paul's campaign sought to buy the support of influential Iowa politicians during the Republican presidential primary.
Benton's move to the McConnell campaign was supposed to shore up the senator's Tea Party cred and stave off a primary challenge from the right. Yet the leaked call underscored just how strained the relationship has become between McConnell and the party's right wing in Kentucky.
McConnell already has a primary challenger in the form of Matt Bevin, a Tea Party-backed businessman who has been seeking the support of influential conservative groups like the Club for Growth. Bevin's campaign manager gloated over the leaked tape, saying in a statement to Talking Points Memo, "Even Mitch McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, thinks something stinks with the Mitch McConnell campaign."
Benton said in a statement released by the McConnell campaign that it was "truly sick" that someone would record his private phone calls, adding, "I believe in Senator McConnell and am 100 percent committed to his re-election."
McConnell, for his part, privately reaffirmed his support for Benton as well.
McConnell campaign source tells me the senator backs Jesse Benton, told him "Don't let the bastards get you down."— daveweigel (@daveweigel) August 8, 2013
Despite his deep unpopularity and the threat of challengers on the left and right, McConnell remains the early favorite in his re-election race.
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