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Ky. GOP Senate candidate draws ire after speaking at pro-cockfighting rally

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Feb. 7, 2014: Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Matt Bevin speaking in Fisherville, Ky.ap

Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Matt Bevin is ruffling feathers after he spoke at a pro-cockfighting event last weekend, which his campaign described as a “state’s rights rally.”

Bevin’s appearance at the rally was first reported by local newspaper The News-Journal. Cockfighting, which is illegal nationwide, is the bloody practice in which roosters outfitted with spurs fight to the death while spectators wager on the outcome.

According to the event’s organizer, the American Gamefowl Defense Network, the event was held to push for legalizing cockfighting at the state level.

“(The event was held) for the purpose of unifying and uniting gamefowl enthusiasts around the principle of using the democratic process to change the law, not break the law,” director David Devereaux said in a statement posted on the group’s Facebook page.

Bevin, a businessman from Louisville, is running in the Republican primary against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He bills himself as a candidate who will “stand up for our conservative Kentucky values,” and has heavily criticized McConnell’s record in the Senate.

Bevin’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment from FoxNews.com, but the candidate told the News Journal he did not realize the event had anything to do with cockfighting.

“I was the first person to speak and then I left,” Bevin told the paper. “They knew I was here. They asked if I would be interested in speaking. I’m a politician running statewide, any chance I get to speak to a few hundred people I’m going to take it.”

A spokeswoman for the McConnell campaign said Bevin’s explanation of the event raises eyebrows.

“Only Matt Bevin would go to a cockfighting rally and claim he didn’t know what they were doing there,” Allison Moore said, adding that “at this point nothing surprises us with this guy."

Bevin’s appearance is also drawing condemnation from animal rights activists. Michael Markarian, the president of the Humane Society legislative fund, told FoxNews.com that animal fighting is a “terrible crime,” and slammed Bevin’s decision to speak at the rally as “appalling.”

“It shows terrible judgment for a politician to associate with an organized criminal network of cockfighters,” Markarian said.

The federal bill that sets farm policy also prohibits knowingly attending an animal fighting venture, such as a cockfight. It's a misdemeanor in Kentucky to enter a bird in a cockfight.

The issue surfaces in Kentucky during occasional police raids on cockfighting rings, and McConnell drew ire from the cockfighting community when he voted in favor of the farm bill.

Bevin and McConnell will face off in the Republican primary on May 20.

FoxNews.com's Stephanie McNeal and the Associated Press contributed to this report