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What Jesse Benton's Resignation from McConnell Campaign Means for Rand Paul's Future

by Carl Wicklander, published

Last week, former Iowa state senator Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe from the Ron Paul presidential campaign to switch his support from U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann to the former Texas congressman.

Jesse Benton, campaign manager for Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, was also implicated in the proceedings and resigned his post. Benton, a lightning rod within the Paul wing of the GOP, was a spokesman for Ron Paul during the former Texas congressman's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.

Benton has not been charged and insists he is innocent, saying the charges are based on:

"Inaccurate press accounts and unsubstantiated media rumors about me and my role in past campaigns that are politically motivated, unfair, and most of all, untrue."

Benton joined the McConnell campaign in 2012 and appeared to bridge the gap between the establishment wing of the GOP and the tea party and libertarian factions. However, with the endorsement of Kentucky's other U.S. Senator, Rand Paul, and McConnell's primary victory over a tea party challenger, the need for a bridge to other wings of the party, at least in the 2014 cycle, was likely already over.

According to University of Kentucky political science professor Stephen Voss, "a lot of campaign responsibilities had already passed from his shoulders" and were assumed by McConnell's senior aide, Josh Holmes. However, for Rand Paul, who does have a political future to consider and is a potential 2016 presidential candidate, the recent events may have an impact.

Benton was polarizing among Ron Paul supporters and liberty movement activists because he was perceived as being insufficiently committed to the Paul agenda and ready to sell out principles for advancement within the GOP. Benton was also thought to be a force behind silencing popular and prominent Paul supporters.

As Jim Antle writes for the Daily Caller, "Benton was accused of being the careerist Republican interloper who wouldn't let Ron [Paul] be Ron [Paul]."

However, Benton also indicated that his actions were designed to further Rand Paul's political ambitions. A year ago, Benton made news when he admitted in a leaked phone call to a conservative activist that while working for McConnell, he hoped to help Rand Paul's potential presidential run as well.

"I'm sort of holdin' my nose for two years because what we're doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in '16, so that's my long vision."

The incident resulted in a humorous photo-op for Benton and McConnell.

Benton managed Rand Paul to a successful Senate victory, McConnell's first significant primary in 30 years, and saw Ron Paul reach electoral heights in 2012 that were considered unimaginable in 2008.

So despite some questionable tactics, including but not limited to the alleged pay-for-endorsement scheme, Benton's track record includes a number of significant victories and showings.

Unless Benton is entirely exonerated, Rand Paul's presidential campaign will be unable to employ him. The situation may mean tapping an unknown name or employing a strategist or team more at odds with the liberty movement.

Either way, the presumed downfall of Jesse Benton likely means any Rand Paul presidential campaign will take on a different shape and any selection of a campaign team will be closely watched.

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