LEXINGTON (AP) — Mitch McConnell needs prayers. Matt Bevin needs money.
The two top Republican officials in Kentucky spoke to more than 500 state donors and supporters Saturday night, each fighting for majorities in their respective legislative chambers. McConnell, the U.S. Senate majority leader, is trying to maintain Republican control and keep his job. Bevin, Kentucky’s second Republican governor in the past 40 years, is trying to win a majority in the state House of Representatives, the only legislative chamber in the South still controlled by Democrats.
But both men, who were bitter rivals during the 2014 U.S. Senate primary, face challenges. McConnell is defending 24 Republican incumbents, many in battleground states he says are “in the crosshairs” of the presidential race. Bevin is fighting decades of entrenched Democratic political power. Just five months ago, Democrats won three out of four special House elections in districts that should have been favorable to Republicans.
“This is going to be a challenging cycle for my party,” McConnell said. “So when you say your prayers at night, not only pray for a Republican president who will take us in a different direction, but for a continued Republican majority in the U.S. Senate that will help our new president.”
Democrats have a 53-47 majority in the state House of Representatives, a body they have controlled since 1921. Of the 100 seats up for re-election this fall, 65 are contested. Most of the Democrats’ support comes from eastern Kentucky, where the coal mining culture has traditionally powered Democratic victories for decades. But Republicans have had impressive showings in eastern Kentucky in the past two statewide elections. Bevin said Saturday night that candidates in those isolated, economically depressed areas are struggling for campaign donations.
“If you have not written as many checks as you are capable of writing and able to part with, I’m asking you to do it this year,” Bevin said. “Some of the most critical races are in eastern counties where, quite frankly, there is no money locally for those candidates to pull from.”
McConnell and Bevin were just two of the speakers at the party’s annual Lincoln Dinner, which included U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr. The featured speakers were Mark “Oz” Geist and John “Tig” Tiegan, who were among the security staff at the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2011, when U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other Americans were killed.
Few speakers mentioned Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump by name, but everyone had plenty to say about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Bevin jumped on Clinton’s recent comments that lumped Trump’s supporters in a “basket of deplorables” by holding up several baskets on stage.
“This is for the Islamophobes and xenophobes. This basket is for the racists and sexists. This basket is for those of you who are the homophobes, I guess. And this is for the deplorables,” Bevin said. “I think half of you are the deplorables.”
Clinton said Saturday she regretted her comments but did not back away from her characterization of Trump’s campaign as being rooted in prejudice.
Rand Paul, the former presidential candidate who is seeking re-election to his U.S. Senate seat in the fall, did not mention his opponent, Democrat Jim Gray. Instead, he focused almost entirely on Clinton’s role leading up to the deadly attacks in Benghazi, saying “it should forever preclude her from being president.”
U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, who is seeking a third term in Congress against Democrat Nancy Jo Kemper, also focused on the Benghazi attacks. He said U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, who led the House Republican inquiry into the attack, will campaign with him this fall in Kentucky.
Gowdy’s report pointed to mistakes made by President Barack Obama’s administration, but found no proof of wrongdoing by Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attack.