Dem leaders like Rand Paul as Ky. Senate target; he pledges to stick with tea party message

By Roger Alford, AP
Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Paul pledges tea party loyalty in Ky. Senate race

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Tea party favorite Rand Paul, fresh off his GOP Senate primary victory, said he does not plan to change his message even as Democrats suggested he is a fringe candidate who will make an easy target in November.

Paul easily defeated Republican establishment pick Trey Grayson with about 59 percent of the vote Tuesday night in a race closely watched across the country as a test of the tea party movement’s strength.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine called him an “extreme candidate” who used a small part of the electorate to win.

“Rand Paul’s positions fail to resonate beyond the far-right Republican segment of the electorate that supported him tonight,” Kaine said.

Paul will face Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway, who won with 44 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo’s, who barely lost the general election six years ago to retiring Republican Sen. Jim Bunning.

Paul insisted Republicans will unite behind him in November in a state where he says President Barack Obama is less popular than ever. He told the CBS “Early Show” he’s already been talking with Republican party officials about working together and expects to draw support from independent voters, too.

“The tea party message is popular well outside the Republican Party,” Paul said.

He insisted during his victory speech Tuesday night that he plans to stick by that message.

“People are already saying now you need to weave and dodge, now you need to switch,” he said. “Now you need to give up your conservative message. You need to become a moderate. You need to give up the tea party. … The tea party message is not a radical message. It’s not an extreme message. What is extreme is a $2 trillion deficit.”

Paul, the son of Texas congressman and former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, struck a chord with frustrated conservatives, promising to vote only for a balanced budget, eliminate congressional earmarks and institute term limits.

Paul’s win could embolden the fledgling tea party movement in other states. The Kentucky election was being watched around the country, especially after tea party activists helped to defeat three-term Sen. Bob Bennett in Utah and forced Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to abandon the GOP to make an independent run for the Senate.

Paul started out as a long shot against Grayson, the perceived front-runner in the race to replace Bunning, a 78-year-old former major league pitcher who opted not to seek a third term under pressure from Republican leaders who considered him politically vulnerable. Bunning then bucked them by endorsing Paul.

Bunning called Paul a “strong conservative who will be his own man in Washington and work to end the bailouts, stop wasteful spending.”

Conway, 40, used his victory speech to try to portray Paul as outside the mainstream.

“We have a fundamental decision to make in this most important of Senate races,” Conway said. “Are we going to use that passion to heat the building? Or are we going to use that passion to burn it down?”

The libertarian-leaning Ron Paul, who celebrated with his son, said the outcome signaled that “the country is shifting in our direction.” Asked what message his son’s victory sent to Republicans, the elder Paul said, “They ought to pay close attention to the grass roots.”

Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon, tapped into his father’s national political base to keep pace with Grayson in fundraising.

He had the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that Paul’s victory is a “wake up call for the country.”

“This is a real time of awakening for America,” she said. “We have an opportunity to not embrace the status quo but to shake things up.”

Tea party activist Bobby Alexander of Elizabethtown, who attended Paul’s victory party, said he liked Paul’s focus on less government spending.

“We’re looking for a conservative candidate that will bring the government back to the people, and I think Rand is the one … that will do that,” Alexander said.

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