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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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February 17th, 2014
05:14 PM ET

Senate's top Republican in trouble? Tea party group calls on Sen. McConnell to drop out

(CNN) – Control of the U.S. Senate is up for grabs this year, and Republicans feel good about their chances, especially in states that went for Mitt Romney in 2012 such as Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska, and North Carolina.

But before Republicans can face off against any vulnerable Democrats, they have to get through their own primaries. And in these contests there is a battle going on for the soul of the Republican party, as establishment incumbents try to fend off tea party challengers.

Perhaps nowhere is that fight more vicious than in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky, where Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is facing tea party candidate Matt Bevin.

Today, the United Kentucky Tea Party, citing McConnell's vote last week to proceed to a vote on raising the debt ceiling, called for McConnell to drop out of the race so conservatives can rally around Bevin.

McConnell, who was elected to the Senate 30 years ago this year, tried to shore up some tea party support by appearing with his fellow Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul Monday.

"There's no doubt that Mitch McConnell has seen Rand Paul as an essential player here in Kentucky," said Joe Arnold, WHAS television's political editor.

But when Paul ran for Senate four years ago, McConnell endorsed Paul's opponent in the Republican primary. It was only after Paul won the primary that McConnell threw support behind him.

Now, with McConnell facing a potentially bruising primary of his own, Paul has endorsed him, even though he may be more attuned with McConnell's challenger's views.

Asked why he endorsed McConell, the freshman senator told radio host Glenn Beck: "You know things are complicated with endorsements. I'd say one because he asked me, and two because he asked me when he did not have an opponent, it wasn't a choice at that time. And three I am someone that likes to bring people together."

It's "complicated" is more fitting for a Facebook relationship status update than endorsement language.

For more of our interview with WHAS's Joe Arnold, check out the video above.

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