Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Kentucky U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Kentucky U.S. Senate

August 25, 2010
69 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2008 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Leans Republican

Democrats have not sent a statewide candidate to Washington D.C. since 1992 and it has been many years before that since the last non-incumbent from that party was elected to the Senate from the Bluegrass State. Given the unpopularity of President Obama in the state and what is shaping up to be a wave year for the GOP, it seems unlikely that the streak will be broken in 2010. Still though, the unconventional candidate Republicans have nominated for the office will make this race more competitive than it otherwise would have been.

Republicans had breathed a sigh of relief last summer when two term incumbent Jim Bunning announced reluctantly that he would no go forward with a reelection campaign. The Baseball Hall of Famer and staunch conservative had long held a reputation of being iconoclastic and even abrasive and as a statewide candidate, his races were tougher than they should have been. Democrats had hopes that Bunning's vulnerabilities would finally catch up with him in another race. To that end, Republicans had looked for ways to push him out of the contest, and the entry into the race by the elected Secretary of the Commonwealth Trey Grayson eventually did the trick. Establishment Republicans, including U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, a powerful figure in Kentucky GOP politics, lined up behind Grayson, who seemed to be a good bet, not only to win the nomination, but to go on to Washington.

One of the Republican candidates opposing him though was ophthalmologist Rand Paul, the son of veteran Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who gained national prominence in the 2008 Presidential cycle as an advocate of libertarianism in the GOP. The elder Paul's Presidential campaign had surprised many by the amount of online money the candidate was able to raise and the near cult-like devotion that his supporters, often young people, provided to the candidate. This national support and fundraising prowess helped propel Rand Paul into serious contention in Kentucky. Aided by support of the Tea Party movement and an endorsement from Sarah Palin, Paul surged ahead of Grayson and easily captured the GOP nomination. Just how that was able to be accomplished remains to some as a political mystery which perhaps might be examined one day in books or documentaries.

Meanwhile, Democrats were engaged in their own rough and tumble primary that would finish quite closer. The leading two contenders were state Attorney General Jack Conway and Lt. Governor Dan Mongiardo, who had narrowly lost to Bunning, showing surprising strength, in 2004. Most of the party establishment lined up behind Conway, who had been touted for years as a rising star in the party, and he ran a bit to the left of Mongiardo and won the May primary by just a one point margin. The race between the two Democrats had gotten nasty and personal at times, and Mongiardo has been reluctant to enthusiastically support Conway in the wake of the primary.

With the general election matchup set, national talking heads from both sides of the political spectrum made note of the theory that Paul might have a tougher path to victory than a more traditional Republican would. The narrative centered on the danger of "extreme" Tea Party candidates winning primaries and hurting Republican prospects in the general election. The first time candidate immediately made some missteps in regards to his libertarian principled based positions on issues such as the Civil Rights Act, while many Republicans shook their heads. In truth, Rand Paul is maybe a little more mainstream than his father, particularly on foreign policy issues, and over the past few months, he seems to have improved as a candidate, who will not make as many self-inflicted wounds for himself.

Still though, Paul has had to answer to various journalistic features about him, including one which seemed to claim that as a pot smoking college student back in the 1980's, he had abducted a co-ed, and forced her to take bong hits and worship the "Aqua Buddha." The story did fall apart a bit from what was originally reported, and if anything, Paul's young supporters probably liked him even more.

Since the primary, almost all polls have shown Paul leading Conway, often by wide margins. In the past few weeks, some though have shown the race to be reasonably competitive, with Paul ahead by about five to nine points. While one poll shows a virtual dead head, there is yet to be any additional date to support that, and the margin the race of a high single or low double digit victory for Paul is likely to occur, barring he does not make any major gaffes in the debates. If he does, the race could wind up even closer.

The politics of the state and the country this year greatly favor any GOP nominee, even one as unorthodox as Paul. He will paint Conway as too liberal for the state and tie him to national Democrat figures. The Republican nominee will definitely will be well-funded, with an intense volunteer operation that will turn out the vote. Paul's Republican primary triumph is evidence of his skill as a candidate. If elected to the Senate, Rand Paul will be on the receiving end of much national attention, and it remains to be seen just how quickly he will surpass his father as the great white Presidential hope of libertarian Republicans.

Paul campaign link:

2010 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 3 D, 14 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 43 D, 37 R