"I'd have liked to see him take a harder line against Harry Reid," said David Ladwig, a 38-year-old payroll compliance officer, as he lined up at the lunch counter of the wood-paneled Elk Creek Restaurant, where the scent of fried chicken filled the air. "If he is opposed by a strong conservative, I would vote against him."
That is the opening that Bevin, a wealthy investment manager, hopes to push through. It will be an uphill climb: The political novice has a fraction of McConnell's financial resources and is little-known by most voters in a race that is likely to be the costliest 2014 contest.
Bevin raised $220,000 in the last quarter and threw in $600,000 of his own money. McConnell pulled in $2.3 million during the same period, giving him nearly $10 million in the bank heading into the fall.
There is no independent polling available yet showing how the two Republicans match up. But McConnell's allies scoff at Bevin's candidacy, saying his assertion that the longtime senator is not a true conservative will not fly with Kentuckians.
"I don't personally believe Matt Bevin has gained any traction in this campaign," said Scott Jennings, a veteran GOP strategist advising a pro-McConnell super PAC called Kentuckians for Strong Leadership. "His message is essentially that Mitch McConnell is friends with Barack Obama. If you listen at all to Mitch McConnell, you know that he has been the biggest thorn in Barack Obama's side."
The super PAC, which raised almost $1.2 million by the end of June, has poured its resources into ads against Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the well-funded Democrat that the winning Republican candidate will face in the 2014 general election.
"We've not run any ads against Bevin because Bevin is a speed bump," Jennings said.