The Norman Transcript

July 8, 2013

McConnell, Paul forge beneficial alliance

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. — To cover his political flank, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has forged an alliance with tea party darling Rand Paul, picked up support from other national tea party leaders and brought in a campaign manager from the upper echelons of the tea party movement.

The GOP’s fiscally conservative wing has proven particularly powerful in Kentucky, and elsewhere it has felled incumbents including McConnell’s longtime Republican colleague U.S. Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana. But McConnell’s efforts to make inroads with the tea party movement have clearly paid off, virtually ensuring that no would-be challenger can get the kind of infusion of cash from tea party channels that allowed Paul to win here in 2010.

Paul, who has presidential aspirations and is looking to run in 2016, needs McConnell’s connections to the wealthy donor base of the Republican establishment. Meanwhile, McConnell needs Paul’s tea party influence to keep potential primary challengers at bay and to energize his general election campaign against the likely Democratic nominee, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

While the alliance with the family that includes former Texas Rep. Ron Paul may not be enough to ward off a challenger in next year’s Republican primary, observers say McConnell has little to fear in securing the nomination.

McConnell’s new allegiances go deep into the Paul family. Jesse Benton, who married the older Paul’s granddaughter, signed on last year to lead McConnell’s re-election campaign. Benton has previously served as campaign manager and political adviser to both Pauls, and his affiliation with McConnell sends a not-so-subtle signal to would-be tea party challengers to stand down and to potential donors to support McConnell or keep their wallets in their pockets.

“Mitch McConnell is an important ally and a conservative voice in Washington for the people of Kentucky,” the younger Paul said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The commonwealth is stronger because of his service and I look forward to continuing to work with him.”

The McConnell alliance also is a boon for Paul in other ways, such as providing leverage to push his political agenda. McConnell has even signed on to one of Paul’s and the tea party’s top political priorities, legalizing industrial hemp farming.

McConnell, a skilled political tactician, watched Paul rise from relative obscurity as a Bowling Green eye surgeon to be elected U.S. senator. Paul knocked off McConnell’s own hand-picked candidate in the GOP primary and then went on to defeat a strong Democrat in the general election.

McConnell, who had been reluctant even to meet with Paul during the primary, reached out after his primary victory, helping him to raise money from the GOP establishment and offering general election counsel in a state where no one knows the political landscape better.