Turns out unity for Kentucky Republicans closely resembles what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama looked like two years ago in Unity, New Hampshire – former rivals joining together with big smiles in hopes of defeating the enemy from the other party. The photos look great, but a general discomfort remains among the staunchest supporters who lost out.
On the ground in the Bluegrass state, Republicans are excited by the prospects of the Rand Paul candidacy — they say he can bring fresh blood and fresh enthusiasm to the party and that can help up and down the ballot. But they remain wary of his unique views — and the possibility of more days like Thursday ahead.
On Saturday, Paul and one-time establishment favorite Trey Grayson will come together for a staged rally with all the key players — from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on down — telling their voters to come together for the sake of winning the general election in November. TPMDC spoke today with several Kentucky Republicans who insisted they will be able to forge the right kind of agreement to beat Democratic nominee Jack Conway. But privately, they admit it might not be so easy.That’s one reason the GOP seems to have settled on a talking point – Paul was set up by the liberal media, who pushed him into a trap that earned him 24 hours of negative press.
“This was just an old type of ploy to get him to slip up on something. It was more of a media gotcha and not any big event,” said state Republican Party member and former county chairman Richard Granna. He told TPMDC in an interview that Kentucky voters are more concerned with the European financial crisis than “hashing up something from 1964 that’s already been settled.”
Granna said he’s already helped bring together Grayson and Paul fundraisers since Tuesday night when Paul walloped his opponent. Another rank-and-file Republican said the party was so divided between Paul and Grayson that now the push will be to quickly change the conversation to “Obama’s economy” and “beating Washington liberals.” The unity rally Saturday is important to project that everyone is on the same page, the Republican said in an interview.
For his part, Conway will be enjoying some time with his family – Sunday they will celebrate his daughter’s baptism. He said he’s already had his unity moment with Dan Mongiardo, who is taking a few days off before they work out a game plan for coming together. Their staffers already are speaking. “We’re going to be one big unified family of Democrats heading into the fall,” he said.
Conway couldn’t resist a poke at Paul during an interview with TPMDC. “It will be interesting how close Mitch McConnell actually gets to Rand Paul” on Saturday, Conway said.
Most agree that unity is inevitable. County party officials told TPMDC they were impressed by Paul’s ability to bring tea partiers to the fold — the younger and more fired up activists are proving to be a boon to the party infrastructure. Still, they’re concerned about how the new faces will affect things down the road.
“The Rand Paul movement and the tea party movement has somewhat energized the party,” Daviess County chair Robin Mercer said. “There are a lot of people coming in who haven’t participated in the past.”
Mercer said that the key to party unity is for worried establishment Republicans to look on the bright side of the tea party influx.
“I have not seen this level of intensity,” she said. “We have to focus on that and welcome these new participants.”
Mercer said that Thursday’s media firestorm about Paul’s views of the Civil Rights act was “a tough day” but chalked it up to Paul’s rookie status. “It’s his first campaign,” she said. “There will probably be some faux pas and stumbles along the way.”
Mercer said that Paul’s take on the Civil Rights Act is “not an overall party view — not at all” and said she wouldn’t be surprised if more of more of Paul’s unconventional views cause more controversy down the road.
“It’s possible,” he said. “He has very conservative views. I’m not sure which one of those will come up again.”
Fayette County Chair Carol Rogers it will be easy for Republicans to get together this weekend since the party considers Paul better than any “liberal” Democrat. But is that enough for Paul to win? “We’ll just have to wait and see,” she said.
James Victor, chair of the GOP in Franklin Country — home of the GOP headquarters where the unity rally will be held tomorrow — said that Paul’s lopsided win means that unity will be a no-brainer. After all, nothing succeeds like success.
“If it was a one-point race you might have a point,” Victor said when asked if it would be tough for Grayson’s establishment supporters to rally around Paul. “But it was a total victory — it was a win in every sense of the word.”
Same goes for Paul’s views. The Kentucky Republican party will come to embrace Paul’s tea party supporters, Mercer said, or they’ll just have to get out of the way.
“This is bigger than one man,” Victor said. “[Paul] is a movement.”
“The closest thing to it I’ve ever seen was Reagan in 1980,” he continued. “It didn’t matter what Reagan said. People just believed.”
Victor is bullish on Paul. He said he expected Paul to win the state by big margins, and he sounded excited at the prospects of fighting alongside the tea party forces. “He is going to be the next Senator from Kentucky,” Victor said.