The president of The Humane Society of the United States' Legislative Fund called for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin to withdraw from the race Thursday after he spoke at a pro-cockfighting rally last weekend in Corbin.
Bevin reiterated his stance that the March 28 event was a states' rights rally in an interview with WHAS radio of Louisville on Thursday. He said he's "never been to a cockfight, don't condone cockfighting," and there were no roosters present.
He did not hear other speakers at the rally, he said, adding he supports attendees' constitutional right to "gather and talk about whatever they want to talk about."
"Apparently there were enthusiasts of cockfighting who were at this as well," Bevin said in the interview. "I was asked to speak to a states' rights rally.
"â ¦ It's just so much nonsense. The reality is I'm running for statewide office. I'm not there to condone what other people believe or don't believe at all."
A Facebook post from David Devereaux, of the American Gamefowl Defense Network that sponsored the meeting, contradicts Bevin's stance that the event was a states' rights rally, saying the gathering was held "for the purpose of unifying and uniting gamefowl enthusiasts around the principle of using the democratic process to change the law, not break the law."
A statement from Michael Markarian, president of The Humane Society of the United States' Legislative Fund, includes two advertisements for the event, which make no mention of states' rights while calling for the legalization of cockfighting, which is illegal nationally and a misdemeanor in Kentucky.
One ad features the iconic finger-pointing Uncle Sam calling "cockfighters and liberty activists" to attend to "legalize liberty" and "legalize cockfighting." Craig Davis, a former state House candidate and Bevin supporter, is featured in both ads and listed as the meeting's organizer in one.
"There's no hidden purpose here: Organized criminals want to repeal Kentucky's already weak anti-cockfighting statute," Markarian said in the statement.
"We have plenty of evidence that they are brazenly breaking the law, strapping razor-sharp knives and ice pick-like gaffs to the legs of roosters, throwing them into a pit and forcing them to hack each other to pieces - just so they can shout out bets and be titillated by the violence and bloodletting."
Bevin's campaign spokeswoman, Rachel Semmel, did not return messages from The State Journal seeking comment about his statement.
Bevin seeks to unseat U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the May 20 GOP primary, but speaking at the pro-cockfighting rally "probably works against him in the grander scheme" in his bid against McConnell, Scott Lasley, a Western Kentucky University political science professor and chairman of the Republican Party of Warren County, told The State Journal.
The federal Farm Bill recently signed into law includes a provision punishing spectators who attend cockfights. Markarian said the Farm Bill earned support from congressmen and women of both parties.