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Campaign manager: I'm "holding my nose" working for McConnell

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., delivers remarks during the second day of the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference March 15, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland.
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Updated at 6 p.m. ET

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, was caught on a secretly-recorded phone call six months ago saying that he's working for the Republican senator from Kentucky while "holding my nose," for the benefit of Kentucky's junior GOP senator, Rand Paul.

"Between you and me I'm sort of holding my nose for two years because what we're doing here is going to be a big benefit for Rand in 2016," Benton says in an audio recording that was provided to the Economic Policy Journal. "That's my long vision."

Benton was talking with Dennis Fusaro, a former Ron Paul campaign aide. Fusaro called Benton in January to confront him over allegations that the Ron Paul presidential campaign paid an Iowa state legislator in exchange for his support. Benton denied any having any knowledge of that alleged bribe.

Benton is closely tied to Ron Paul -- he worked for both of Ron Paul's presidential campaigns, two of his congressional campaigns, his leadership PAC and his nonprofit Campaign for Liberty. Benton is also married to Ron Paul's granddaughter. When McConnell hired Benton last year, it was seen as a move to shore up his support among tea party conservatives as he mounts his 2014 reelection bid.

In a statement, Benton said, "It is truly sick that someone would record a private phone conversation I had out of kindness and use it to try to hurt me. I believe in Senator McConnell and am 100 percent committed to his re-election. Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honors of my life and I look forward to victory in November of 2014."

McConnell's opponents were quick to jump on the recording. The campaign for McConnell's Republican primary challenger Matt Bevin said that McConnell isn't a "true conservative."

"Even Mitch McConnell's campaign manager, Jesse Benton, thinks something stinks with the Mitch McConnell campaign," Sarah Durand, a spokesperson for the Bevin campaign, said in a statement.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee similarly emailed reporters with links to the recording.

Update: The McConnell campaign Thursday afternoon took a humorous approach to the controversy, posting a picture on Facebook of Benton holding his nose while standing next to McConnell. The caption underneath the photo reads, "LIKE if you agree: Nothing smells worse than ?#?Obamacare?! ?#?NoseGate?".