Updated at 11:07 ET
The tea party movement got its best chance at winning a seat in the U.S. Senate tonight when Kentucky voters chose Rand Paul as the the GOP nominee. As expected, Paul has won decisively, dealing a blow to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the GOP establishment, which spent much time and effort trying defeat Paul’s insurgent campaign and secure the nomination for Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson.
Rand currently leads Grayson by 59% to 35% with 99 percent of the precincts reporting.
Paul faces a general election campaign that will put the purest form of the tea party message on the Senate ballot so far this year. Democrats are enjoying the opportunity to mock McConnell for losing a battle with the ultra-right in his home state, but they haven’t said much about how they plan to beat Paul themselves. Republicans, meanwhile, have said they’re ready to stand behind Paul and say signs are good he’ll hold the seat for the GOP.
The polls give Republicans reason to be confident — Paul has performed well against Democrats in hypothetical matchups all year, and definitely starts the general election race as the frontrunner. In a matchup with Democratic nominee Jack Conway, the TPM Poll Average shows Paul ahead by a margin of 44.7-38.4.For his part, Paul made it clear who was responsible for his seeming landslide victory. In his acceptance speech, he reupped on the tea party messaging — and didn’t have much use for the word “Republican.”
Paul said he came to deliver “a message from the Tea Party.”
“A message that is loud and clear and does not mince words,” he said. “We’ve come to take our government back.”
So now what? What will an establishment-backed Paul campaign look like? Will Paul stand with the party leaders he’s been attacking for months?
McConnell is already doing his part to mend fences after his vocal support for Grayson in the primary. In a statement released shortly after the race was called, he praised the (mosty anti-McConnell) supporters Paul brings with him to the general election race.
“Dr. Paul ran an outstanding campaign which clearly struck a chord with Kentucky voters and I congratulate him on his impressive victory,” McConnell said. “Now Kentucky Republicans will unite in standing against the overreaching policies of the Obama Administration.”
NRSC chair John Cornyn said he’s confident a Senator Paul would be a welcome part of the GOP caucus.
“I am confident that we will keep Kentucky’s U.S. Senate seat in Republican hands thanks to Dr. Rand Paul’s nomination today,” Cornyn said in a statement. “After a spirited and open primary, Rand Paul effectively communicated his commitment to Kentucky values, and I am certain that he will serve as a strong and dynamic voice in the U.S. Senate.”
Numerous national polls have shown that the vocal and powerful movement represents just a sliver of the overall voting populace, and nearly all of it conservative Republican. Will Paul’s supporters on the far right follow him as he inevitably reaches out for votes in the center? For now, they’re just reveling in their win.
“The political world is buzzing tonight,” the Tea Party Express said in a statement. The group heralded Paul for “beating out an establishment politician and sending a message that the tea party is here to take our country back.”
The group is ready to take the credit for Paul’s insurgent win.
“[C]ongratulations fellow tea party supporters!” the Tea Party Express statement reads. “You’ve helped bring about major changes in this country!”
See Rand Paul’s acceptance speech — sure to become a tea party classic — here: