Kentucky state Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, says candidates like Mitch McConnell's Tea Party backed primary challenger would rather see the federal government explode and be destroyed than work towards a limited government approach.
The comments come as more GOP state office holders are voicing their support for McConnell over Louisville businessman Matt Bevin.
In public appearances and campaign messages, Bevin, who is endorsed by the United Kentucky Tea Party, has ripped McConnell for not being conservative enough.
Arguing Kentucky deserves better, the Bevin campaign points to McConnell's vote for the bank bailouts, Patriotic Act and debt limit increases as prime examples of him talking like a conservative in the state and caving to Democrats in Washington.
But Stivers says McConnell doesn't control all of what goes on in Washington and has to make difficult choices as leader of the 45-member GOP caucus in the Senate.
"And I think some people—mainly some like Mr. Bevin—would just see government explode and be destroyed and have no government at all," Stivers told WFPL in a telephone interview. "But I think Senator McConnell tries to strike a balance of a necessary evil of having some government and not too much."
The endorsement of McConnell is little surprise given Stivers is one of the GOP leader's fiercest defenders, who is also married to a McConnell staffer. But the comments do reveal that state GOP leaders are pushing back against the "not conservative enough" attack line from tea partiers.
Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Forgy said he would choose not voting over backing McConnell, however.
"I'm not going to support McConnell, but I’m not going to support the Democrat because it’s too much Obama for me," he told LEO Weekly's Joe Sonka. "I don’t intend to be involved McConnell’s campaign or even vote for him. There’s a third way. I’ll stay at home if that’s the only option."
Asked about the primary election outcome, Stivers says Bevin's personal wealth won't help either due to a lack of name recognition in places like his southeastern district. He predicts Bevin will be defeated by at least a 2-to-1 margin.
"In this area I don't think you'll see a lot of support for Matt Bevin, particularly because nobody knows who he is," says Stivers. "I've met the man twice and I'm in tune with politics and didn't know who he was. The guy on the street whether in Somerset or London or Hazard or Corbin is not going to have a clue who Matt Bevin is."
UPDATE: The Bevin campaign responded to our request for comment regarding Sen. Stiver's comments.
"There is a good reason Kentucky Republicans are rallying around Matt's conservative message. And comments like this from career politicians will only help our cause," says Bevin campaign spokeswoman Sarah Durand.