Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) today announced he has hired Jesse Benton to manage his 2014 campaign.
Benton, who has deep ties to the tea party movement in Kentucky and around the country, led Rep. Ron Paul's (R-Texas) White House bid and managed now-Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) general election campaign in 2010.
If McConnell accrues any political vulnerability on his right flank in Kentucky — and Bluegrass State GOP political operatives believe he doesn't have much right now — having Benton as his top campaign aide is likely to help significantly reduce the threat of a serious primary challenge. But the move does more than just help in the primary.
"It's a really brilliant move on a lot of levels," former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) said, noting Benton's best-in-the-business reputation and deep knowledge of the state. "Having someone who has credibility [with the grass roots] will help him not only avoid a primary challenge, which ... I think he's kind of done at this point. But bring those folks into the fold and have them excited. Because what you don't want to have is have the Republican party divided."
McConnell, one of the savviest political strategists in Washington, D.C., today, has already laid substantial groundwork for his 2014 campaign. At the end of June, he had more than $6 million in cash on hand.
"We're committed to running a presidential-level campaign in Kentucky and that starts with a presidential campaign manager," McConnell said in a statement. "Jesse is literally the best in the business at building and organizing conservative grass-roots movements and I'm thrilled he's chosen to return to Kentucky to lead my campaign."
"It is a real honor to join Senator McConnell's team," Benton said in a statement. "I look forward to playing my part in re-electing a great leader who can truly unite a broad coalition of Americans and get out country back on track."
The timing of the announcement — 26 months before the 2014 elections — is also important.
"I think Mitch is trying to send a signal: 'I don't care who you are — Republican, Democrat, Independent — I'm taking this race seriously and you better bring your A-game because I'm bringing my A-game,'" Grayson said.
The news of the Benton hire was first reported by the Associated Press.