Friday, August 19, 2016

Race of the Day- Kentucky U.S. Senate

80 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (South)

Outlook: Likely Republican

It has been nearly a quarter century since a Democrat has won a Senate race in the Bluegrass State. While the Commonwealth of Kentucky was once solidly Democrat at the state level, the 2015 election of a less than stellar Republican candidate, over by a favored opponent, and by a larger than expected margin, is a strong indication that Democrats have an uphill struggle there, under Obama. The Presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton, with her views on coal, guns, and several other issues is going to be a bigger problem for her in the state than Trump might be for Republicans.

Of course, freshman Senator Rand Paul wishes he was the one running for President. Trying to seek a second term in the Senate, with his national profile well eclipsed has to feel like a bitter pill to swallow. I almost wonder if Dr. Paul would not prefer to leave political office altogether, but considering all the expectations for his career with the libertarian wing of the Tea Party wing of the GOP, this is the only move that makes sense for him, as the "for President" is removed from the campaign torch logo of his name.

Six years ago, the son of longtime Texas Congressman Ron Paul, himself a controversial but nationally known figure in the Republican Party, captured the Senate seat of his adopted state, in an upset, first by easily dispatching the establishment backed selection of Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, and then relying on the GOP wave to win a nasty battle with a Democrat. This was Rand Paul's first run for elected office, but almost immediately upon entering the Senate, he sought to elevate his national profile and was seen as picking up his father's mantle in running for President. Paul, along with other freshman conservatives, was a controversial figure in the Senate GOP Caucus, although he managed not to anger people nearly as much as his colleague and eventual Presidential rival Ted Cruz. On several issues, especially related to national security and domestic surveillance policies, Paul differed a great deal with more traditional conservatives, but he also amassed some respect from young people on the left, and for a time, looked like one of the more competitive GOP Presidential candidates against Hillary Clinton in hypothetical match-ups.

The same Kentucky GOP establishment which wanted very much to keep Rand Paul away from a Senate nomination in 2010 eventually worked hard to try to change state law so that he could run at the same time for President and for reelection to the Senate. There likely would have been some legal battles if Paul advanced further in his White House bid, but it looks like something he probably would have been able to do. Of course, the highly anticipated candidacy of Paul never took off and the candidate, who at times appeared arrogant or surly in debates or on the campaign trail, was surpassed, in large part on the right by Cruz, but also for the "Tea Party Outsider" label, by candidates such as Ben Carson, but especially by Donald Trump. In many ways it is odd (their views on U.S. intervention overseas besides the matter) that so many who had backed the Paul small government label over the past decade gravitated towards Trump, a candidate who can easily be described as an authoritarian and who proposed big government solutions to many issues, at least to the extent that he discussed policy.

Paul was one of the few Republican contenders who tried to go directly at Trump early on in the debates, but did not receive much backup from others, who also seemed to go at Paul. Trump fired back and the Kentucky Senator found that Trump had a definite Teflon quality in how he was able to fend off attacks on the right. After finishing a distant fifth place in Iowa, Paul had no choice but to suspend his Presidential candidacy and focus on what looked like it might turn into a competitive reelection race in Kentucky. Paul probably has some intention of running for President one day again, but it hard to see how he will ever be seen as strong, in starting a campaign, as he looked in 2015. Senator Paul clearly despises Trump, but he realizes that his Tea Party base has a thing for him, and he has stated tersely that he abides by his pledge to support the person who became the nominee.

Considering how polarizing Paul is as a political figure, several Democrats were mentioned as potential challengers to the incumbent, who would eventually manage to win the Republican primary with 85 percent. That must have come to a surprise to many in the GOP who thought six years earlier that Paul's nomination was a fluke and that he could be successfully primaried. None of the Democrats who had ever held statewide office ran for the nomination, and while the field was crowded, with several little known contenders, 59 percent of the vote went to Jim Gray, the Mayor of the university town of Lexington. Gray's closest primary opponent was a former Frankfort City Commissioner who ran very far to the left.

If elected, Gray would become the first openly gay man ever to serve in the Senate, but in this general election, the Democrat nominee's sexual orientation is not getting a ton of attention, either in a positive or negative way. With a business background, and government experience, Gray seems, on paper at least, to be a credible candidate, and back when Paul was floundering as a Presidential candidate, some polls showed he could be a threat. Since Paul ended his White House bid though, polls have moved back strongly in his favor.

Lots of voters may never like Rand Paul much, both politically and personally, and for good reason in many cases, but it would take a major development for Kentucky to send a statewide Democrat to Washington, anytime soon.

Paul campaign link:

Senate races predicted thus far:
5 D (3 Safe, 1 Likely, 1 Leans)
11 R (4 Safe, 4 Likely, 2 Leans, 1 Tossup)

Overall predicted thus far: 41 D, 41 R


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