LOUISVILLE - Conservative activists from across the country came to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's hometown on Saturday to insist that their fight against established Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections isn't over.
The downtown Louisville rally served as a lift for McConnell challenger Matt Bevin, a Louisville businessman who wants to capitalize on the same tea party energy that helped Rand Paul defeat McConnell's choice for the state's other Senate seat two years ago.
The event also was intended as a morale booster as the so-called liberty movement tries to put its imprint on an election cycle where McConnell and many of his fellow Republican incumbents appear to be in a strong position to win their party's nomination. Speakers accused the Republican Senate leader and his colleagues of joining President Barack Obama in perpetuating a behemoth central government.
Bevin charged McConnell, who's held his seat since 1985 with "selfishness ... hubris ... and cowardice." And he encouraged his supporters not to be cowed by polls suggesting a McConnell advantage. "If you think we cannot win, then you're right," Bevin said, looking out at signs that urged voters to "Ditch Mitch."
Bevin was followed by conservative media personality Glenn Beck, who told the crowd that McConnell's challenger was "called by God."
The Kentucky primary is May 20.
McConnell was in Louisville on Saturday as well, presenting a Purple Heart to Sgt. Jesse Wethington of Liberty for injuries he sustained in 2005 while deployed to Iraq. McConnell did not take questions from reporters after the ceremony.
A McConnell campaign spokeswoman issued a statement via email: "Mitch McConnell spends every day working for Kentucky, while this guy clowns around with out of state groups trying to con people into believing he's something he's not."
The conservative insurgency helped Republicans regain control of the House in 2010 and, besides Paul in Kentucky, benefited Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah. Several speakers dropped those names Saturday, each time drawing enthusiastic applause. But archconservative nominees have also been blamed for general election losses in several states, including Missouri and Indiana in 2012. McConnell has been aggressive with fundraising and his attacks on Bevin, and he's encouraged his colleagues in other states to do the same.