A win-win McConnell-Paul alliance

U.S. Sens. Rand Paul (left) and Mitch McConnell, both Republicans from Kentucky, politicking in 2010.
U.S. Sens. Rand Paul (left) and Mitch McConnell, both Republicans from Kentucky, politicking in 2010. (ED REINKE / AP)
Posted: July 09, 2013

FRANKFORT, Ky. - To cover his political flank, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has forged an alliance with tea party darling Rand Paul, picked up support from other national tea party leaders, and brought in a campaign manager from the upper echelons of the tea party movement.

The GOP's fiscally conservative wing has proved particularly powerful in Kentucky, and elsewhere, it has felled incumbents including McConnell's longtime Republican colleague U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana. But McConnell's efforts to make inroads with the tea party movement have clearly paid off, virtually ensuring that no would-be challenger can get the kind of infusion of cash from tea party channels that allowed Senate colleague Paul to win here in 2010.

Paul, who has presidential aspirations and is looking to run in 2016, needs McConnell's connections to the wealthy-donor base of the Republican establishment. Meanwhile, McConnell needs Paul's tea party influence to keep potential primary challengers at bay and to energize his general election campaign against the likely Democratic nominee, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

While the alliance with the family that includes former Texas Rep. Ron Paul may not be enough to ward off a challenger in next year's Republican primary, observers say McConnell has little to fear in securing the nomination.

The McConnell alliance also is a boon for Paul in other ways, such as providing leverage to push his political agenda. McConnell has even signed on to one of Paul's and the tea party's top political priorities: legalizing industrial hemp farming.

McConnell, a skilled political tactician, watched Paul rise from relative obscurity as a Bowling Green eye surgeon to be elected U.S. senator. Paul knocked off McConnell's own hand-picked candidate in the GOP primary and then went on to defeat a strong Democrat in the general election.

McConnell, who had been reluctant even to meet with Paul during the primary, reached out after his primary victory, helping him to raise money from the GOP establishment and offering general election counsel in a state where no one knows the political landscape better.

That won McConnell not only Paul's favor, but his early endorsement for re-election. TheTeaParty.net also endorsed McConnell. The group's founder, Todd Cefaratti, called McConnell "an indispensable ally of conservatives in the Senate."

Louisville attorney Mike Karem, a Republican activist who worked for the Nixon and Reagan administrations, said the relationship between Paul and McConnell has essentially cleared the path for McConnell to the GOP nomination. "They worked out a backroom deal," Karem said. "Nobody can say McConnell is dumb."

But he does have a strong Democratic challenger to face in next year's general election. Grimes announced recently that she would take on the Republican stalwart who already has raised about $13 million for his re-election campaign.

Defeating McConnell would be the Democrats' biggest prize of the 2014 election. His seat is one of 14 that Republicans are defending, while Democrats try to hold onto 21.

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