The Rally for the Republicans at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center isn’t your standard rubber-chicken campaign event. Frank Simon, a Louisville religious-right leader known for his strong opposition to gay marriage, leads the crowd of 800 in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Rev. Jerry Stephenson, a conservative black pastor, delivers the invocation, asking “Father God” to “help us start a revolution.” Then the Grammy-nominated rock and reggae singer Aimee Allen, decked out in tattoos, patterned stockings, and high-top sneakers, performs a three-song set, culminating in an anthem helped along by the candidate’s sons on acoustic guitars: “We don’t want no war no more / Bring our boys home to our shore.”
This improbable opening is topped off by the Rev. Jeff Fugate, the right-wing pastor of Clays Mill Road Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. Unlike the previous act, Fugate doesn’t sing about the PATRIOT Act or inciting a riot. Instead he gives a Falwellesque speech about restoring American values.
Nearly an hour later, the audience, which paid $25 a head, is treated to the main event: Rand Paul, a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, making his first joint appearance with his famous father, Ron Paul, the libertarian presidential candidate and 11-term GOP congressman from Texas.
“It was a little weird,” Rand Paul’s campaign manager, David Adams, admits afterward. “But it also shows what’s great about our movement. We are building a big tent that appeals to everyone from the civil libertarians to the Christian right.” That tent covers a vast army of hippies, Birchers, don’t-tread-on-me libertarians, Tea Party activists, conservatives clinging to either Bibles or guns, and blue blazer–wearing GOP regulars. Rand Paul has managed to tap into his father’s national following of libertarians and anti-war advocates without (so far) alienating traditional Republicans in the Blue Grass State.
This highly unusual combination may make Rand Paul the most serious libertarian-leaning candidate for U.S. Senate in recent history. Self-styled “Ron Paul Republicans” have run for office before. A few of them—congressional candidates B.J. Lawson in North Carolina and Amit Singh in Virginia, for example—showed genuine promise in 2008 but were burdened by campaigning in deeply Democratic districts the same year that Barack Obama swept into the White House. Rand Paul is running in a political climate that has soured on Democrats, in a state where Obama was never popular to begin with. His familial relationship with the elder Paul isn’t the only thing that makes him stand out from the pack of Ron Paul Republicans. Rand Paul might actually win.
‘I Have to Win This Race on My Own’
When the increasingly erratic Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) announced his retirement last July, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson was supposed to be the GOP nominee. Grayson had already set up an exploratory committee, apparently with Bunning’s blessing. He was the first choice of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Republican leaders in Washington, D.C., and Kentucky preferred him even to Bunning, a former professional baseball star who had become cantankerous and unpredictable toward the end of his second term.
So when Bunning took himself out of the running—complaining bitterly that his fellow Republicans did “everything in their power to dry up my fund raising”—Grayson seemed like the natural front-runner. A Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll taken in late August and early September of 2009 showed him leading upstart Rand Paul by 15 percentage points. But by December, Public Policy Polling showed Paul drubbing Grayson by 19 points, 44 percent to 25 percent.
If Paul wins the primary, he will, as a Republican, be at least the slight favorite in the November election. He has outpolled both leading Democrat contenders in every public survey taken since December. In February, a Rasmussen poll showed Paul ahead of Attorney General Jack Conway by eight points—twice Grayson’s margin in a survey taken at the same time—and leading Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo by 11 points.
Paul also has been winning the money race, although that contest is closer. His grassroots-organized Internet “money bombs,” patterned after a technique his father’s followers used to great effect in the presidential race, have produced hundreds of thousands of dollars in single-day periods. Paul has raised nearly $1.9 million since last year, edging out Grayson’s haul of more than $1.7 million.
Grayson’s supporters—who include much of the state’s GOP hierarchy, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—are clearly irritated by this turn of events. After the Pauls’ first father-and-son rally, Grayson campaign manager Nate Hodson issued a statement to the press blasting them both. “Maybe Ron Paul’s skills as a career politician will help his son Rand explain to Kentuckians how closing Guantanamo and releasing the prisoners will make us safer and how a pro-choice marijuana advocate will best represent Kentucky Republicans as their Senate nominee,” the statement read. “The truth is that Ron and Rand Paul are not conservatives on national security and social issues and are completely out of touch with Kentucky.”
The tone is very different within the Paul camp. “Dr. Paul’s office,” a sweet-sounding Southern lady answers the phone. When I’m transferred to the candidate, he tells me the biggest challenge his campaign faces is “not being too optimistic, because things really could not be going better.” He mentions the independent poll showing him with a 19-point lead among Republican primary voters. “Our internal polling has me ahead, but not by quite that much,” Paul says. “Maybe they’ll run a bunch of ads with someone narrating in a sinister voice to try and beat me in the last couple of weeks.”
The younger Paul looks and sounds a lot like his father. The similarities don’t end there. They both graduated from Duke Medical School—Ron Paul is an obstetrician, Rand Paul an ophthalmologist—and are reverentially referred to by their supporters as “Dr. Paul.” Paul followed in his father’s footsteps a second time by becoming involved in politics. He gave his first public speech in 1984, before a crowd of 300. The venue was a debate with Texas Rep. Phil Gramm, who was running against his father for the Republican nomination for Senate. When the elder Paul had to go back to Washington for House votes, he let his son stand in for him at such forums. Rand Paul did well enough in the debates, but Gramm easily won the primary. In 2008 Paul traveled with his father’s presidential campaign and spoke on his behalf in nearly a dozen states.
“I wouldn’t be where I am right now without my dad,” Paul acknowledges. “It would be hard for me to make my first campaign a statewide race against an experienced politician if it weren’t for the fact that my dad is now famous. But at the same time, I have to win this race on my own. He can’t do it for me.”
‘I Am 1,000,000 Percent on Board With Rand Paul’