NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Much of the attention surrounding the Conservative Political Action Conference is understandably focused on the plethora of Republicans here who may be running for president at this time next year.
But, mostly offstage and behind the scenes, a handful of tea-party-backed Senate candidates — each running uphill against better-funded Republicans — are here among the thousands of conservative activists. They’re shaking hands, meeting potential supporters and raising some money.
They include Matt Bevin of Kentucky and Milton Wolf of Kansas, each waging primary challenges to Republican senators. Also in attendance are lesser-known hopefuls Rob Maness of Louisiana, Greg Brannon of North Carolina and David Clements of New Mexico, plus Joe Miller of Alaska, who are fighting for their party’s nomination to take on Democratic senators.
Kentucky, Louisiana, Alaska and North Carolina are on the front lines of the battle for Senate control . Republicans need to pick up a net six seats to win the majority.
“It’s a good opportunity in one centralized location to meet as many people as possible, and get your name and face in front of them,” said Maness, a retired Air Force colonel who is battling GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy and Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu in Louisiana’s jungle primary. “They’re voters, they’re supporters, and all of the Senate races — the people of America realize now — are national impact races,” Maness continued. “You’ve got to get supporters from all over or you can’t win.”
Bevin is the only candidate among those five whose GOP competition also appeared at CPAC.
That's Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who vowed in a Thursday speech that he would push for a conservative agenda if he takes over as majority leader next year, a pointed rebuttal to Bevin’s continued line of criticism. The McConnell campaign followed that up Friday morning by releasing a radio ad on conservative stations statewide that questions the accuracy of attacks from Bevin and the Senate Conservatives Fund.
Bevin, who did not witness McConnell’s speech, said in an interview their primary race is a lot closer than the national media coverage has portrayed the contest. As CQ Roll Call asked why he came to CPAC, one of the regular sideshows at the conference strolled by.
“Because where else are you going to see Uncle Sam go by on stilts ?” Bevin joked.
More seriously, Bevin said he came to CPAC “because there were people who wanted to meet with me and people I wanted to meet with. I’m in a race that’s a serious race that I intend to win, a race that needs to be won because it will be very cathartic for the entire political process in this country.”
Brannon is using CPAC to raise money, with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., headlining a fundraiser for him at a nearby restaurant. He’s vying for the chance to take on Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.
Wolf, who is taking on Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has been under fire recently over X-ray images of medical patients that he posted to Facebook. He could be seen Thursday participating in a series of media interviews.
Clements, who faces former New Mexico GOP Chairman Allen Weh in the fight to take on Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, opted to come after a surprisingly strong showing at last weekend’s state party pre-primary convention. According to a Clements consultant, he’s here meeting with potential endorsing senators, independent expenditure groups and policy advocacy groups.