Can a libertarian ride Tea Party disaffection to victory in a Republican primary?
HERE'S ONE difference between Rand Paul and papa Ron Paul, says mama Carol Paul: her son is funny on stage.
"Ron doesn't do that - he doesn't tell jokes," Mrs. Paul says of her husband of 53 years. She recalls a lively speech Rand made for his dad in New Hampshire on the 2008 presidential campaign trail. "He was so personable - it tickled me to death."
Jokes aside, there are few obvious differences between Rand Paul, 47, and his dad, 74, who has become an unconventional political celebrity in his golden years. So Rand Paul, now embarking on a promising Republican primary campaign for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, finds himself charged with a complicated mission - convincing voters he is a good old bluegrass conservative Republican while maintaining the goodwill of his libertarian rebel base.
"It's threading a needle," says Scott Lasley, a professor of American politics at Western Kentucky University, "between what Rand Paul needs to do to win and where a lot of his base support is coming from. It's going to be interesting to see how that plays out."
But the younger Paul is clear-eyed. Though he entered the race in August - to the chagrin of Kentucky Republicans who had already handpicked Secretary of State Trey Grayson to succeed retiring Sen. Jim Bunning - it isn't as though he decided to take up politics yesterday.
"I've had it in my blood," Paul tells TAC, recalling how, at age 10, he would listen raptly to his father's radio interviews. An obstetrician who moved his growing family - Rand is the middle of five - to Texas in the 1960s, Ron Paul was convinced that government spending had led to the growing monetary crisis. He lost his first congressional bid in 1974, but captured the 22nd District seat in 1978 and has served in Congress a total of 21 years.
"In 1984, I gave my first speech for [my father]," Rand recalls. "When I was 21, before 300 people, I debated [then Texas congressman] Phil Gramm." The elder Paul, who was running against Gramm for an open Senate seat, let young Rand stand in during debates for which Ron had a conflict with House votes. By all accounts, he held his own.
Rand Paul has spent the last 15 years as founder and chairman of Kentucky Taxpayers United, a state legislative watchdog group. It wasn't his first experience in the anti-tax movement, said Carol Paul, recalling his leadership in a similar organization while attending classes at Duke University School of Medicine in North Carolina. "He was vitally interested in [tax issues]" and trying to shake things up, she laughs. "I said, 'Are you sure you are in school?'"
He was. Like his dad and two siblings, he became a doctor, an eye surgeon. He married Kelley Ashby and settled in Bowling Green in 1993, where they are raising three sons, aged 16, 13, and 10. All helped Grandpa Paul run for president, with Rand traveling with the campaign and speaking in at least 10 states.
"In so many ways, I have been practicing for this for 17 or 18 years," Paul notes. "My wife had been telling me to wait until I was 55 and the kids were in college." But fate stepped in when Bunning, who "had seen his political star fade" according to the Washington Post, finally caved to the "unsubtle campaign" by Republican leaders, including senior Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, to retire before he lost the seat outright. But the Kentucky squires overlooked a few factors.
First came the Tea Party movement, which effectively harnessed the antiWashington outrage coursing through the degraded GOP base. And they hadn't counted on Rand Paul - whose father was the only Republican to come out of the 2008 devastation a winner and who carries the right measure of camaraderie with these disaffected voters - choosing this moment to stick his toe in the political waters.
Jesse Benton, who handled communications for Ron Paul's presidential campaign, now serves as a senior adviser to Rand Paul. …