Top Republican rivals get in last jabs before Kentucky’s US Senate primary showdown Tuesday

By Roger Alford, AP
Saturday, May 15, 2010

GOP US Senate rivals in last dash to KY primary

GEORGETOWN, Ky. — Rand Paul called for checking big government spending and Trey Grayson took last jabs at his top Republican rival for the U.S. Senate, revisiting their main campaign themes at a GOP dinner Saturday night as their primary showdown loomed.

Sharing a stage for a final time before Tuesday’s contest, both gave campaign pitches honed from months of crisscrossing Kentucky.

In back-to-back speeches, Paul repeated themes of ending government bailouts and balancing the federal budget while Grayson criticized his top foe for his opposition to the Patriot Act and for comments he once made about coal. Both issues could be key in the Republican primary.

Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon, spent much of Saturday wooing voters in Louisville and in heavily Republican northern Kentucky. Grayson, Kentucky’s secretary of state, had concentrated on southeastern Kentucky, a GOP stronghold critical to Tuesday’s outcomes.

In Georgetown, Paul painted a dark picture of the nation’s future unless Congress reins in spending.

“I think that the times we live in are troubling,” he said. “I think we face a day of reckoning.”

A political outsider, Paul entered the race as a long shot against Grayson, who has long been considered a rising star in the Kentucky GOP.

An antiestablishment mood that swept the country quickly turned the tables in favor of Paul, said Lexington attorney Larry Forgy, a Republican leader and former gubernatorial candidate.

“This is not an election; this is an uprising,” Forgy said. “People are afraid for their country. They’re not just fed up. They’re deeply concerned, and they’re looking for relief.”

Despite trailing in the polls, Grayson campaigned tenaciously Saturday, braving a hail storm that halted interstate traffic as he traveled to the Georgetown dinner.

There Grayson reminded the crowd that Paul once called coal “one of the least favorable forms of energy.” Grayson even used that comment, made years ago, in a TV ad, hoping to appeal to some 17,000 Kentuckians who work in the coal industry.

During the campaign, both Grayson and Paul have criticized the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama administration for policies they say hurt the coal industry.

“We must do whatever we can to stop this war on Kentucky coal,” Grayson said.

Paul has based his campaign to succeed retiring GOP Sen. Jim Bunning largely on fiscal concerns.

On Saturday, he complained to central Kentucky Republicans that Congress, through earmarks, has sent Homeland Security money to private a private petting zoo. “It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic,” he said.

Bunning, a 78-year-old former major league pitcher enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, opted not to seek a third term. He was pressured by Republican leaders, including Kentucky’s other senator, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to retire because they considered him politically vulnerable.

Paul has backing from Bunning, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and evangelical leader James Dobson, the founder of the Colorado-based Christian organization Focus on the Family.

Grayson has endorsements from establishment Republican leaders, including McConnell and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Together, Paul and Grayson have spent more than $5 million in the primary fray, most of it in a harsh TV advertising war.

The eventual Republican Senate nominee will likely face a well-funded Democrat in the general election. Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway are the front-runners in a close race for the Democratic nomination.

Although Kentucky is solidly Democratic by voter registration, it tends to vote Republican in federal races. The GOP holds both of the state’s Senate seats and four of six House seats. Republican John McCain carried the state in the 2008 presidential election with 57 percent.

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