Democrats appear to have found their plan to defeat Rand Paul — wind him up and watch him go off the deep end.
Ever since Paul won the right to carry his party’s flag on May 18, political types on both sides of the aisle have watched with amusement — or chagrin — as Kentucky’s Republican nominee for Senate has stuck his foot in his mouth again and again. But less attention has been focused on how the Democratic nominee, state Attorney General Jack Conway, intends to use Paul’s, er, unique rhetorical talents to pull off what most still say would be an upset win in the home of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.
The TPM Poll Average shows Paul leading Conway 48.8-41.8.
After the Kentucky primaries, Conway hinted at his campaign strategy when he told me that Paul was too extreme for his state, and that his views “are not the views of mainstream Kentuckians.” But we hadn’t really seen the Rand-is-crazy strategy in action until last week.
Last Thursday’s candidate forum in Louisville offered the first look at both men performing on the same stage, at the same time. What emerged from the session was a glimpse at Conway’s strategy: attacking Paul’s views as extreme, painting Paul as irresponsible and even dangerous — and then sitting back and waiting for Paul to embarrass himself.So how exactly does that strategy work in practice? Consider Conway’s comments last Thursday on earmarks — which Paul has says he wants to ban altogether.
We do need earmark reform. But I’m not going to call for an end to all earmarks. What we need is transparency in the earmark process … You know what?…the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant has been the recipient of earmarks in the past. Our locks, our dams, our bridges have been the recipients of earmarks in the past … those projects, they mean jobs. And when I go to Washington, I’m going to make sure that those worthwhile projects, that are so important to your communities are looked out for and are adequately represented.
Conway told the crowd that his plan for earmarks — and other spending problems — comes down to more “accountability” in government. And that led directly into the Rand Paul-is-too-crazy-for-Kentucky stuff.
“I can tell you what accountability is not. Accountability is not going on national TV and saying it’s unAmerican to go after British Petroleum,” Conway said. “Accountability is not having a world view where you think that government should basically never touch business whatsoever.”
It’s a strategy that might seem obvious on its face, but carries with it more than a little risk. After all, Paul didn’t sweep the GOP primary by offering ideas that don’t fly among a large section of the Republican base. And John McCain didn’t defeat President Obama 58-41 in the state in 2008 because a lot of Kentuckians aren’t prepared to pull the lever for a Republican when the time comes.
Still, a Conway campaign source told me Friday, the Democrats feel like they have the upper hand in the policy debate, calling Paul’s position on earmarks “extremely unrealistic.” The source said Conway will appeal to a wide range of voters — including Republicans — by talking solutions to the problems Paul is raising that Kentuckians believe are actually possible.
As for the remaining portion of Conway’s strategy to this point, waiting for Paul to embarrass himself, things really couldn’t be going better for the Democrats up to now, the Conway source said. Paul’s comments about BP and the 1964 Civil Rights Act have given Conway ample opportunity to sit back and watch Paul squirm.
But the Republican’s ability to shake attacks on his views during the nasty GOP primary was not lost on the Democrats. It’s not enough to simply let Paul talk, the Conway source told me. You have to be sure that what you highlight about Paul’s past statements gives him no way to “wiggle out” from under it. Though the campaign source wouldn’t discuss ad and media strategy for the fall, the source suggested there are lessons learned from the establishment GOP’s failed attacks on Paul’s more extreme statements will could play a part in Conway’s TV ads once the race heats up. Basically, if you’re going to use Paul’s words against him, make sure you pin him down.
Paul’s wiggling skill was apparent in Thursday’s forum.
“Boy, it is amazing how sometimes when you get on national TV and try and say something how sometimes they mistake what you’re trying to say or misconstrue what you’re trying to say,” Paul said in response to Conway’s attacks on the BP comments. The line is pretty much Paul’s standard response when one of his more controversial statements is brought up.
Conway’s hoping Paul gets more chances to try out that excuse before all is said and done.
Note: This post has been updated.