Jesse Benton, who's running the Senate minority leader's 2014 re-election bid, was speaking privately to a supporter of Kentucky's junior senator, Rand Paul, a scion of the Tea Party movement, who was questioning why Benton would work for McConnell.
Benton ran Paul's senatorial campaign. McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, is seen by many in the Tea Party movement as an impediment to the insurgent far-right wing of the party. McConnell supported Paul's opponent, Trey Grayson, during their 2010 primary.
In a recording of the conversation leaked to WHAS-TV, Louisville, Benton told the Paul supporter he would be "sorta holding my nose for two years" while working for McConnell.
Benton immediately apologized and renounced his remark, The Hill said Monday.
In a face-to-face meeting with McConnell, Benton said he was sure his comment "hurt" the senator, but Benton said it isn't how he really feels about working for the campaign.
"He asked me how I could say something like that, and I just didn't have a good answer," Benton said. "I apologized from the bottom of my heart and I told him it's not what I believe and that I am here because I believe in him."
In fact, Benton said, he hopes to build a partnership between McConnell and Paul, who is widely considered a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016.
"There is going to be a substantial part of 'Team Mitch' that, God willing, will go and fuse with 'Team Paul,' who already has a great team in place and I think will just make a tremendous campaign operation," Benton said.
McConnell's primary opponent, Matt Bevin, a Tea Party conservative, pounced on Benton's nose-holding comment.
"Even McConnell's top guy realizes that his boss is not a true conservative," Bevin said.
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