When Jesse Benton was approached about becoming Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager for the 2014 election, he quickly reached out to one person: Rand Paul.
Benton has longstanding and deep ties with the Paul clan. He was a top aide on both of Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns, and he served as campaign manager for Rand Paul’s victorious, rookie Senate campaign in 2010. And his wife, Valori, is Ron Paul’s granddaughter.
When Benton told Rand Paul he was considering taking the job, Paul barely hesitated. “Oh, you got to take it,” Paul told Benton in a phone call, according to Benton. “If they’re interested in you and you think it’s the right fit for you, you got to take it . . . It’s good for you and it’s good for me.’”
The elder Paul, too, was “totally fine” with him becoming McConnell’s campaign manager. “He wants me to be able to provide for his granddaughter and his great-granddaughter,” Benton explains.
It was a smart, strategic move for McConnell: Benton’s years with the Pauls gives the Senate minority leader credibility with the Tea Party, and Benton has years of practice reaching out to and working with the grassroots. Now as McConnell faces a conservative challenger, Kentucky investment manager Matt Bevin, Benton — who considers himself to be a member of the Tea Party — is a key resource.
John Tate, president of Ron Paul’s organization Campaign for Liberty, says it’s possible Benton could help persuade some tea partiers to vote for McConnell. And it doesn’t hurt that Rand Paul himself has endorsed McConnell. “I think there are those in the liberty movement that are willing to maybe follow Rand’s lead or others’ and give [McConnell] a second look,” Tate, who worked closely with Benton on Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns, says. But “there are those that will never give him a second look,” he adds.
Benton himself argues that McConnell, who received a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, is a serious conservative. “Back in the Nineties, when I was reading National Review in my college dorm, Mitch McConnell was the cool conservative senator,” he says. “He was like the Tom Coburn back then. He had a little maverick in him, and he took strong conservative stances, and he filibustered stuff.”
And the senator hasn’t changed, Benton says: “He’s the most conservative member of the Republican leadership since the Bob Taft crew in the Fifties.”
Unsurprisingly, some Ron and Rand fans were unhappy with Benton’s decision. But Benton — who received his share of death threats, including at least one that mentioned his wife and child, during the second Ron Paul presidential campaign — is no stranger to controversy. And it hasn’t ruined the relationship, Tate says. “Among a lot of our best activists,” he observes, Benton’s “still got a fairly good reputation, despite going to work for McConnell, which some of them didn’t like.”
“I don’t doubt his commitment to the cause,” he explains.