If Kentucky Republicans are sweating their party's U.S. Senate primary, they didn't show it Saturday night in Bowling Green.
At the 2014 Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner, southern Kentucky Republicans rallied behind U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is facing a primary challenge by Tea Party activist Matt Bevin.
Second District Congressman Brett Guthrie told WKU Public Radio he believes the GOP will be able to unite before the November general election. The Warren County Republican said it’s not the first time a well-known incumbent has faced a primary.
“Hopefully what you can do is that people can come back together," Guthrie said. "And that’s what you hope will happen—people will air out their views. You know, primaries can be tricky, there’s absolutely no doubt about it, because somebody’s going to win, and somebody’s not going to win.”
Senator McConnell took the stage Saturday night and told the audience that he believes he’ll return to Washington next year as Senate Majority Leader. Republicans need to pick up six Senate seats to control the chamber.
McConnell will first have to win his primary and then beat Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. In a recent Bluegrass Poll, Grimes led McConnell by four points in a hypothetical general election matchup.
The challenge to McConnell from a Tea Party activist has again raised questions about the group's impact on the "establishment" Republican Party.
The Tea Party has won some high-profile victories in recent years, such as Rand Paul’s Senate victory in Kentucky. However, the group has also helped to knock off establishment Republican incumbents in primaries, only to lose the general election to Democrats.
Kentucky’s only Republican constitutional office holder says he won’t be surprised to see more incumbents from both parties face primary challenges in the future. Agriculture Commissioner and Monroe County native James Comer told WKU Public Radio that the Tea Party has encouraged many new people to get involved in Kentucky politics.
“Our party has grown," said Comer, who is considering a 2015 run for Kentucky Governor. "We’re a two-party state now, so we’re going to have primaries in every race in the future—every Governor’s race, every U.S. Senate race. I think that just shows that our party is growing and that we’re going to have more candidates, because in Kentucky now you have just as good of a chance of winning as a Republican as you do a Democrat.”
Still, not every Kentucky Republican is satisfied with the current state of the GOP.
A spokesman for the United Kentucky Tea Party recently told WKU Public Radio that right-wing activists from several surrounding states will come to Kentucky in the coming weeks to help Bevin in his primary challenge against McConnell.
Several speakers at the Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner talked about the importance of Republicans taking control of the Kentucky House during this year's legislative elections. Democrats currently hold a 54-46 advantage in the chamber.
Republican Representatives Michael Meredith of Brownsville and Jim DeCesare of Rockfield predicted the GOP would win enough Democratic seats later this year to take control of the House when the next legislature meets in 2015.