Fact-checking the Kentucky Senate race

An ad from GOP primary candidate Matt Bevin attacks Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Kentucky GOP primary

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., hasn’t had a serious primary opponent since he first ran in 1984, but he might this year. A wealthy 46-year-old businessman and political neophyte named Matt Bevin has courted Kentucky’s tea party members and offers himself as a Washington outsider who would bring more conservative purity to the state’s congressional delegation.

Bevin speaks against amnesty for undocumented immigrants and decries the 2008 bailouts for banks and Wall Street investment houses. He calls for the complete defunding of Obamacare. Bevin paints McConnell as lifelong politician who is more interested in keeping his job than bringing new ones to Kentucky.

Some recent polls suggest McConnell might have reason for concern. One from Republican pollster Wenzel Strategies puts McConnell far ahead of Bevin but it also finds that 45 percent of likely voters have an unfavorable view of McConnell.

A long time Kentucky Republican strategist, and political novelist, Rick Robinson, judges that McConnell is safe with the people who usually show up for a GOP primary.

But Robinson said the potential threat to McConnell lies with nontraditional voters. In the 2010 senate Republican primary, McConnell’s chosen favorite was trounced by Rand Paul, son of GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul and a magnet for those with tea party leanings. These were people who were, in Robinson’s words, "not on the radar screen."

The ad war between McConnell and Bevin is well underway, and all signs are that we will have many opportunities to check the claims made by each side. The primary contest is May 20, 2014, and the general election is Nov. 4, 2014.

We started with the two recent commercials from the campaigns.

McConnell goes at Bevin

McConnell’s latest ad is called Delinquent and it casts Bevin as a man who repeatedly fails to pay his taxes and then denies the habit. Here’s the key text from the ad:

Announcer: Bevin says  (video clip) "I have no tax delinquency problem, nor have I ever."

Announcer: But Bevin’s business failed to pay taxes at least eight times. And was the number 1 tax delinquent.

Bevin also failed to pay taxes on his million-dollar home in Maine.

Despite official documents, Bevin says (video clip)  "I have no tax delinquency problem nor have I ever."

Announcer: Bailout Bevin. How can you believe him on anything?

The first of these claims connects to a Connecticut bell making firm that has been in the Bevin family for six generations and fell on hard times around 2008. Bevin was asked to step in to get things back on track. The company survived and the issue is, was he responsible for its unpaid taxes before he took over?

As for the house in Maine, the tax bill was sent to the owner and Bevin should have seen them. He paid his taxes before 2007 and afterwards. A change in the company holding the mortgage played a role. You can get all the details and our ruling here.

Bevin goes at McConnell

The latest ad from Bevin ties McConnell to the financial rescue measures passed by congress as the economy headed into a tailspin in 2008. Here’s the key text from Bevin’s ad:

Announcer: After pushing the Wall Street bailout through the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell bragged (video clip of McConnell) "This has been the senate at its finest."

Announcer: And what are fact checkers saying about Mudslinging Mitch’s latest attacks on conservative Matt Bevin?

Misleading (image from Washington Post)

Doesn’t add up (image from local Fox news)

Like Obama campaign attacks (image from Washington Post)

After 30 years in Washington, voting for one bailout after another, slinging mud is all Senator McConnell has left.

The ad plays to anti-government sentiment among people who see Washington’s multi-billion dollar intervention in 2008 as a gross overreach of public power and a favor to the financial elite. This is a popular theme in tea party circles. We looked at the specific claim that McConnell pushed the bailout, formally known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP, through the Senate.

McConnell had his reservations but he was a vocal supporter of government intervention. We read and listened to some of his key comments. We noted the atmosphere in September and October 2008, a time of great tension when the Republican president, George W. Bush and the presidential nominees of both parties pressed to get TARP passed.

Read it all here, including our ruling.