Saying she is proud to have been attacked by Sen. Mitch McConnell's re-election campaign, Louisville Tea Party President Wendy Caswell is endorsing Republican Matt Bevin in Kentucky's U.S. Senate primary race.
The nod from Caswell is a key pickup for the Bevin campaign that comes weeks after two prominent tea party activists in Louisville backed McConnell in next year's GOP primary.
In a Courier-Journal op-ed, Caswell says McConnell is more concerned with increasing his own political power than conservative principles.
"Sen. Mitch McConnell represents the old guard in Washington D.C. that cares more about holding on to power than defending the principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility and individual freedom. Those are the principles that Matt Bevin believes in. I know he believes in those fundamental conservative ideals because he has embodied them in his life's experiences," she says.
The endorsement from Caswell was likely helped by a web video attacking the activist.
In August, McConnell's campaign criticized Bevin for donating to Caswell's state House campaign because she is a registered Democrat. McConnell aides also point out Caswell wrote a newsletter saying she met with a liberal super PAC that later attacked the ethnicity of McConnell's wife, former Labor Secetary Elaine Chao.
But Caswell and others point out she has twice been elected as the president of the state's largest tea party group, and is a founder of the organization.
"I am very grateful for Wendy's support," says Bevin. "She has been a staunch advocate for fiscal conservatism in her community and in the state, and I look forward to bringing these shared values to Washington."
While Team Mitch has taken a tougher line on Caswell individually, it hasn't extended its tenacious attack strategy to the larger movement.
For instnac,e McConnell has not publicly gone after members or leaders with The United Kentucky Tea Party, which encompasses 14 different groups across the state and endorsed Bevin the day he announced his candidacy.
But several tea party leaders did slam McConnell this week after a campaign spokesperson called Bevin's supporters "fringe." Perhaps a sign of how Team Mitch doesn't want to jab the larger movement in the the state, McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton clarified they were referring to the Washington, D.C.-based Madison Project and not the tea party movement.
The McConnell campaign also points out that Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is backing the GOP leader. But other lawmakers in Kentucky who have supported by tea party groups such as Congressman Thomas Massie, have decided to stay out of the race.
In an open letter, nine Kentucky Tea Party leaders are asking McConnell to clarify what his campaign meant by calling Bevin's supporters "fringe."
The comments were made by McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore in reaction to a radio attack ad by the Washington, D.C.-based Madison Project. She said Bevin had a "small cadre of fringe friends."
But state tea party leaders argue they share the same values as those outside conservative groups that have criticized McConnell in recent weeks.
"We would appreciate a clarification from you on where you stand on these issues and whether you consider these values 'fringe?' If you indeed believe that limited government and individual liberty are 'fringe' values, then we are proud to belong to the fringe group that your campaign has so cavalierly dismissed," the letter says.
Team Mitch maintains the remark was focused on an outside group and not local activists. A McConnell campaign aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity said: "The (tea party) folks are trying to stir things up that aren't there."