McConnell campaign, tea party activist publicly spar over primary challenge

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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A Kentucky Republican operative named David Adams is doing everything he can to drive Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell crazy.

Adams, a self-styled tea party activist who worked on Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s 2010 primary campaign, is regularly quoted in national media outlets lambasting McConnell, who faces re-election in 2014, and he is making an active effort to recruit a tea partier to challenge McConnell in the GOP primary. The McConnell campaign has attacked him back, creating a public conflict between the tea party and the so-called establishment senator, even as a seemingly unlikely alliance has emerged between McConnell and the more anti-establishment Paul.

A serious challenger to McConnell, who has a 44 percent approval rating according to a May Public Policy Polling poll conducted for Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic group, has yet to materialize. But for the past few weeks, Adams has been announcing to the press that he has found such a challenger. He will not, however, say whom.

“That’s going very well. No timeline. We’re just enjoying immensely watching the McConnell team flail around blindly,” Adams told The Daily Caller in a phone interview Friday. “We’ve got a little bit of time to just sit back and enjoy that. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Adams suggests his expertise stems from his time as Paul’s campaign manager during his 2010 primary election, but Kentucky operatives who worked with Adams on that and other campaigns were skeptical of Adams’ claims and his influence.

“I wore my car out traveling around all over the state trying to help a guy who was a virtual unknown become elected to the U.S Senate. Worked my guts out,” Adams said of his time on the Paul campaign. He parted ways with the campaign after the primary, he said, to go work on Phil Moffett’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bid, something he said he was “setting some groundwork for” before he joined the Paul campaign.

Other people from the Paul campaign tell the story differently, describing Adams as a likable person, but a poor campaign manager.

“David Adams? The guy we fired? He’s just so incompetent,” Jesse Benton, who managed Paul’s campaign after he won the Republican primary and is currently managing McConnell’s campaign, told TheDC in March, regarding Adams’ efforts to find a challenger to McConnell.

Another source close to the Paul campaign told TheDC that Adams’ claim that he was campaign manager was “not accurate in any capacity.”

“He didn’t really do anything,” the source said. “He was with us because he had a business card.”

“Our campaign outgrew him, and I guess that’s just the best way to put it. We developed a professional campaign that just outgrew him,” the source explained.

“I have nothing bad to say about the guy really,” the source added. “He’s not a bad person.”

Another source close to the Paul campaign said that Adams had the title of campaign manager, but that he “didn’t do the technical aspect of what a campaign manager would do.”

The source said that other members of the Paul campaign were often not sure what Adams was doing, or where he was, and that, at times, he was simply inaccessible.

A source close to the Moffett campaign told a similar story.

“He started out as campaign manager and he retained the title, but he really didn’t do the work,” the source said.

“He just disappeared. … Quit returning phone calls. Had no idea where he was or what he was doing. He would pop up every once in awhile, but he certainly wasn’t managing the campaign,” the source said.

Adams dismissed those claims, saying it “figures” that the person who made them didn’t speak on the record.

“I would call shenanigans on that. I’m glad to talk to you on the record,” he said.

Adams is quite willing to talk on the record and does so often, appearing in a multitude of national media stories about McConnell’s 2014 reelection campaign and touting opposition to McConnell within the party. Talking to the press is one of Adams’s strong suits, said the second source close to the Paul campaign.

He was “really good at trying to get media attention, get exposure,” the source said.

But Adams interactions with the media are often self-serving, said some of the sources who talked to TheDC.

“David is kind of ‘team David,’” said the second source close to the Paul campaign, calling Adams an “opportunist” who was too focused on “getting his name out there.”

Sources said that Adams’ quotes to the press did not necessarily translate into action, voicing skepticism that he could get a candidate to challenge McConnell.

“I know he’s talking a lot about it, but I don’t think there’s any real action. And really in one statement that probably sums up David in a lot of ways,” said the source close to the Moffett campaign. “He’s good at talking, but there’s usually not a lot of action behind it.”

“He talks a lot,” Trey Grayson, former Secretary of State of Kentucky who lost to Paul in the 2010 Republican Senate primary, told TheDC in a phone interview.

“He loves to talk to the media, and he loves to drop hints or sort of smack talk, if you will,” Grayson said, calling Adams “more of a talker than a doer.”

Before Adams joined the Paul campaign, Grayson said he tried to get a job with Grayson’s campaign and “made a statement that he preferred me to Rand.” Grayson said he was not personally involved in the conversation and that Adams spoke to his communications director. The campaign did not offer Adams a job, and a few weeks later he called back to say he had taken a job with the Paul campaign.

Grayson said he liked Adams personally, but remained skeptical of his capability as a campaign operative. Adams told WHAS 11 at the end of May that he had heard that McConnell was “very, very upset and very worried, losing some sleep” over the challenger Adams says he has recruited.

“They’re not losing sleep over anything David Adams is doing,” Grayson said. “That’s one thing that’s certain.”

Adams has evidently irritated some people enough that personal attacks are beginning to fly, something Adams evidently thrives on.

“More nasty quotes would be just beautiful,” Adams said, when asked about the barbs he had been trading publicly with the McConnell campaign.

TheDC has obtained his arrest records, which include a DUI in Georgia, which Adams confirmed. Asked for his reaction to the fact that TheDC had obtained his arrest records, Adams sounded almost gleeful.

“That’s show business,” he said.

“I aspire to be the kind of person that they lock in a cage in a basement and throw raw meat at me … three times a day and let me out to fight for freedom and liberty, on occasion. That’s the kind of person that I want to be. So if anybody wants to try to nip at my heels to prevent me from doing that, have at it.”

Asked how he had ended up so at odds with Benton after they were on the same team in 2010, Adams said, “if you’re looking for who has changed, who’s moved, you gotta talk to Jesse.”

Benton, for his part, said Adams was just hurting Republicans in Kentucky.

“David is an okay guy, but his antics get really frustrating,” Benton told TheDC. “Both of our Senators are working really hard to bring Republicans, Conservatives and Independents together and David seems bent on tearing people apart. Our team is committed to uniting people and we will keep working hard to do just that.”

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