Rand Paul's balancing act
At an intimate grassroots fundraiser last night -- his first public appearance in Washington since winning the Kentucky GOP Senate nod last month -- Rand Paul warmed up the crowd with a wry reference to his rocky debut on the national stage.
"After we won, people came and said, 'How was it?'" the ophthalmologist and first-time candidate told a group of about 40 guests at a private upstairs bar at the Phoenix Park Hotel. "And I said, 'Well, it's kind of like what Dickens wrote: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.'"
The line elicited knowing laughter throughout the room. But whether Paul realized it or not, he had made a prescient point: his campaign has become -- at its essence -- a tale of two cities.
Paul, who won an convincing primary victory last month over Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) by tapping into voters' anti-establishment mood, now faces the challenge of maintaining his image as a Bowling Green-based political outsider while working hand-in-hand with the Republican Party establishment in Washington to hold the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R).
In Paul's address to the crowd, there was little evidence his victory speech last month in which he painted himself as a candidate of and for the tea party; neither Paul nor his father -- Texas Rep. Ron Paul who was also in attendance -- made any mention of the national movement widely credited with propelling him to victory.
And, tonight, Paul will further embrace the party establishment as he is feted at a fundraiser at the National Republican Senatorial Committee tonight.
Among the attendees include nine senators who voted in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), a vote that Paul railed against during his primary campaign against Grayson.
"One of the big issues I won on was the bank bailout," Paul told the crowd, pointing out that he has complimented Bunning for voting against TARP but making no mention of tonight's event.
In an interview after the event, Paul described his decision to accept donations from TARP supporters -- a reversal from the stance he took in the primary -- as a product of the difference between running an intraparty race versus a general election campaign.
"In our primary, we emphasize how we're different, and then after that, you try to work together with everyone in the party," Paul said. He noted that while he disagreed with those who voted for TARP, they also share many areas of agreement, adding: "I don't think they're bad people."
Ron Paul, who voted against TARP and made smaller government the centerpiece of his presidential campaign in 2008, echoed his son's thoughts on the issue. "I don't know too much about that, but I guess the primary was the primary, and he was talking to Republicans," said the elder Paul.
Bunning insisted during his brief remarks to the crowd that Paul would keep those who supported him in the primary even as he broadened his appeal in the general election.
"The people that he stirred up in the primary will be stirred up going into the general," said Bunning.
Paul has to hope Bunning is right. His situation may be the most prominent example of an outsider candidate being embraced by the party establishment but it is far from the only one. Will the party change Paul or will he change the party? And will it make a difference to those most ardent supporters who were with him from the get-go?
-- Felicia Sonmez
June 24, 2010; 12:18 PM ET
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