The news that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager, Jesse Benton, has resigned gives us an opportunity to revisit the relationship between the two Kentucky senators. To say that Jesse Benton is close to the Paul family would be an understatement. He is, in fact, part of the Paul family, as he is married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter, Valori Pyeatt. The reason Benton resigned is because of a scandal that led to multiple grand juries and an indictment arising from the 2012 presidential caucuses in Iowa. Apparently, Iowa state senator Kent Sorenson was bribed by the Ron Paul campaign to switch his endorsement away from Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. At the time, Mr. Benton was Ron Paul’s political director.
Prior to that, he had been the campaign manager for Rand Paul’s successful 2010 campaign for U.S. Senate (he lived in Rand Paul’s basement for part of the campaign). Mitch McConnell had endorsed Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson for the nomination, so things were a bit awkward between the two senators. McConnell decided to hire Benton as his own campaign manager as a way of mending fences and in an effort to protect his own right-flank from insurgent primary opponents. McConnell got a challenge from his right anyway, but he swatted it away with ease.
Benton’s motivation for joining up with McConnell was pretty transparently to help Rand Paul’s career, and particularly his presidential ambitions. This became clear when a former aide to Ron Paul named Dennis Fusaro released a recorded phone conversation in which Benton said he was “sort of holding my nose for two years” while he worked for McConnell “because what we’re doing here is going to be a big benefit for Rand in 2016.”
After “Nosegate” many observers expected Benton to be fired for disloyalty, but McConnell backed him and everyone said all the right things.
Then, on Wednesday, Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty in court of taking a bribe from the Ron Paul campaign in 2012, and Benton (pleading innocence) resigned to avoid (he said) being a distraction that would harm McConnell’s reelection prospects.
Benton’s guilt or innocence in this matter is still unclear, and a Justice Department spokesman told the Des Moines Register that the investigation is still ongoing.
“This decision breaks my heart, but I know it is the right thing for Mitch, for Kentucky and for the country,” Benton said in a statement.
What’s clear, for now at least, is that McConnell’s effort to cozy up to the Paul family has backfired. Benton’s effort to “hold his nose for two years” has failed. And Alison Lundergan Grimes is licking her chops.