STAMPING GROUND, Ky. (AP) — Tom Ramsey stopped by the local supermarket here to pick up two yard signs from the back of Republican Senate hopeful Matt Bevin's truck.
But the 33-year-old said his vote is more against veteran incumbent Mitch McConnell than it is for Bevin.
"I don't know that much about (Bevin), and some of the research is kind of hard to get to," he said. "Truly, I'm just tired of Mitch McConnell."
That was the sentiment for most of the 10 people who spent nearly two hours with Bevin Tuesday morning at a local breakfast spot in eastern Kentucky, where the race for the U.S. Senate is the marquee election of the 2014 midterm elections.
"I'm more against someone than I am for someone at this point," said Dan Thornsberry, 66, who says he is not a McConnell fan but is mostly concerned with defeating Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Most polls and pundits expect a razor-thin race between McConnell and Grimes, the secretary of state. But first, McConnell and Bevin will compete in the May 20 Republican primary. Bevin is a Louisville businessman who says he has driven 45,000 miles across Kentucky telling people why he can beat McConnell and Grimes.
By any measure, it's a longshot challenge. McConnell, a 29-year Senate veteran, has been gathering campaign cash and allegations against Bevin. They include Bevin's caught-on-camera comments supporting the legalization of cockfighting, a bogus claim on his LinkedIn page that implied he had a degree from MIT and a 2008 report from Bevin's investment firm that called the federal bailout a "positive development."
"The problem with this guy ... he has no commitment to truth or fact. He will say absolutely anything," said Josh Holmes, McConnell's former chief of staff and now his campaign adviser.
But three weeks away from the primary, Bevin says all of these stories are designed to distract voters from what he says are the real issues of the campaign: jobs and the economy. Bevin said his cockfighting comments — that it was a "bad idea" to "criminalize behavior" such as cockfighting that is part of the state's heritage — were made in the context of state's rights. He said he has a certificate from an MIT executive education program and said his LinkedIn page has never called it a degree. And he said the 2008 report was written by his chief financial officer and was not a statement of his views on the federal bailout.
Tuesday morning, no one asked Bevin about cockfighting or MIT. They wanted to know about energy policy, the federal reserve and whether the 10th amendment to the Constitution allows states to nullify federal laws.
"I don't know that it was a good thing to do to go to that (cockfighting rally)," said Scott Mitchell, who was wearing a "Don't Tread on Me" t-shirt. "But I liked what he said, that he got invited, he went and he's for state's rights because that is not a federal issue."
Now, after weeks of defending himself, Bevin is back on the attack. He said he will announce a detailed jobs plan this week after a local newspaper reported that McConnell said it was "not my job" to bring jobs to a rural Kentucky county. It's a strategy modeled after Grimes, who has been touting her own jobs plan while criticizing McConnell for not having one of his own.
But some Kentucky Republicans say all Bevin has done is divide the party and force McConnell to spend money instead of focusing on Grimes. Hunter Bates, McConnell's former chief of staff who is now a consultant, said Bevin reached out to him when he was considering challenging McConnell.
"I said, 'You're crazy.' Basically everything that I predicted to him has happened," Bates said. "Anybody telling him it was going to be bad, he interpreted it as a great sign of his own strength."
For Bevin, comments like that are "just noise."
"It's like the echo chamber of the media. They love it because it is titillating, it's amusing, it's fun," he said. "At the end of the day the voters out there in Kentucky, they want someone out there who will fight for them, not come around every six years and pretend to be their friend."