(WASHINGTON) — The Ron Paul campaign team is being swallowed up by the mainstream Republican Party, one staffer at a time.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has hired Paul’s campaign manager, Jesse Bentonm, to run his 2014 re-election campaign, the senator announced Thursday.
This follows the Republican National Committee’s hiring of Paul’s former spokesman, Gary Howard, in late June.
“We’re committed to running a presidential-level campaign in Kentucky and that starts with a presidential campaign manager,” McConnell said in a prepared statement. “Jesse is literally the best in the business at building and organizing conservative grassroots movements and I’m thrilled he’s chosen to return to Kentucky to lead my campaign.”
“It is a real honor to join Senator McConnell’s team. I look forward to playing my part in re- electing a great leader who can truly unite a broad coalition of Americans and get out country back on track,” Benton said in a statement, provided by McConnell’s staff.
This won’t be Benton’s first Kentucky Senate campaign. After serving as communications director for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in 2008, Benton joined Sen. Rand Paul’s first campaign in 2010, signing on as campaign manager after a staff shakeup.
By hiring Benton, McConnell may head off the chances of a tea-party challenge in 2014, after conservatives displayed some fearlessness in challenging the two longest-tenured GOP senators in 2012, mounting challenges against Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. Hatch avoided defeat, but Lugar lost his primary to state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in May.
A challenger to McConnell has not yet materialized, though some divisions remained among Kentucky Republicans after McConnell backed Trey Grayson, Rand Paul’s opponent, in the 2010 primary. McConnell, Rand Paul, and their two staffs have a good working relationship, according to a Senate aide.
Senate leaders can expect tough races against the opposing party these days. In 2008, McConnell was given a brief scare by self-funded Democrat Bruce Lunsford. In 2012, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid escaped a threatening challenge from tea-partier Sharron Angle.
McConnell sought a manager who could weather the intensity of a high-profile campaign, who could unite the at-times disparate elements under the Republican tent, and who had run and won a campaign in Kentucky, the Senate aide said. On all three counts, Benton fit the bill.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jennifer Rizzo, CNN
Stephan Rockefeller, EastIdahoNews.com
Stephen Collinson, CNN