Our guest blogger is Joe Sonka, who is reporting on the ground from Kentucky. Sonka also maintains his own blog at Barefoot and Progressive.
Kentucky Republicans will head into the voting booth on Tuesday to decide whether Rand Paul, the “tea party” candidate and son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), or Secretary of State Trey Grayson receives the nomination for the U.S. Senate. Paul has shocked many political observers by maintaining a double-digit lead in the polls over the past few months on Grayson, the hand-picked protégé of Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
With McConnell appearing in ads for Grayson, many view the the race as a referendum on McConnell’s leadership. McConnell tried to shake that perception on Meet the Press this morning, claiming that this is a “race between two non-incumbents” and not about him.
At a Saturday campaign event in Lexington, Paul’s supporters had nothing nice to say about McConnell, scorning him as a “liberal,” “an embarrassment,” and an advocate of the bank bailout passed under Bush:
PAUL SUPPORTER: Mitch McConnell is abhorrent. He’s an embarrassment. Honestly, people like him have got to go, and I think if Rand get’s in there he’s going to set a precedent for how a small government conservative or classical liberal should conduct themselves.
PAUL SUPPORTER2: He supported amnesty and he voted for the bailout when there was a Republican president pushing it. We don’t need that.
Earlier this month, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT), one of the most conservative members of the Senate, lost his party’s nomination to two right-wing tea party candidates. While many Republican operatives and lobbyists had orchestrated tea party protests in hopes of building a movement to help elect more Republicans, they have faced a backlash in the form of aggressive primaries from the far right. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), who gained infamy from his pledge to “break” Obama by making health care reform his “Waterloo,” has encouraged right-wing tea party primaries in California, Florida, Utah, Colorado, as well as in Kentucky with Paul’s candidacy.
In the House, there are dozens of tea party primaries challenging incumbent Republican lawmakers and other party-picked candidates. Many in this tea party movement view McConnell and other establishment figures with as much suspicion as they view Democrats. McConnell is known for his heavy use of earmarks and is viewed as extremely cozy with entrenched corporate interests.
The strength of the far right tea party has forced the GOP to adopt increasingly fringe political positions. For instance, a DeMint-backed healthcare repeal campaign forced Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), the Republican Senate candidate in Illinois, to promise to lead the fight to remove all of health reform in the midst of his primary against a tea party candidate. He has since tried to recant the promise.