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Analysis: KY GOP Senate fight highlights bigger battle within Republican Party

by Joe Arnold


Posted on November 5, 2009 at 3:20 PM

A couple of things have happened this week in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Kentucky that could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the race.  WHAS-11’s exclusive SurveyUSA polling now shows a dead heat with Rand Paul holding a narrow lead over Trey Grayson.
But more importantly, two outside organizations made announcements that could severely damage Grayson’s chances.  First, in the wake of Tuesday’s elections and conservative grassroots uprising, National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John Cornyn announced that his committee would not spend money in contested primaries in 2010.  In other words, the national party will not be spending money on behalf of Grayson despite his all-but endorsement by Senator Mitch McConnell. 
This morning, the New York Times reports that the Club for Growth, a conservative organization that has been involved in GOP primaries across the country, is considering spending money in U.S. Senate primaries in, among other places, Kentucky.  And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a political one) to figure out that they would be much more likely to back Paul over Grayson.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/05/us/politics/05repubs.html?_r=1&hp)
In fact, Paul has met several times with the Club for Growth in Washington and has received a reportedly very positive reception.
What does this mean?  Bad news for Grayson, who might have been thinking that the national GOP, in the event of a close race, would attack Paul while Grayson ran the traditional “I’m a good guy” advertising.  If Paul and Grayson raise and spend roughly the same amount of money (no sure bet for Grayson, given Paul’s broader base of financial supporters), a major expenditure by the Club for Growth on behalf of Paul could put enough wind at his back to push him over the finish line in the May primary.  If the Club does get involved in this primary, expect biting advertising painting Grayson as a moderate Republican against Paul as a true, fiscally responsible conservative.
A key tactical question for the national GOP: if the Club for Growth shows up in Kentucky to defeat the establishment candidate Grayson, will Sen. John Cornyn reconsider his decree not to spend money in contested primaries?  You can bet this is a conversation he’ll have with Sen. Mitch McConnell, who recently headlined a fundraiser for Grayson in Washington D.C. (that Paul supporters called the "Bailout Ball" and mounted an even more impressive "moneybomb of their own) and is putting his own credibility on the line by being so heavily involved.  More is at stake than just the Kentucky Senate seat for McConnell; no matter what happens in the 2010 elections he will want to be reelected Senate Republican Leader, and Rand Paul would be much less likely to back him for that post than Trey Grayson, given McConnell’s position in this primary.
Though Paul told me that he voted for McConnell in last year's election, he makes thinly veiled attacks on McConnell in many of his speeches, attacking Washington party leaders who have let federal spending get out of control.  If he were elected Senator from Kentucky, he would join a growing group of Congressional Republicans who believe the Republican Party must draw a harder line on spending if it is to regain majorities in Washington D.C.
Paul campaign manager David Adams says in a conference call with the Senate Conservatives Fund late Tuesday night, a quick poll of more than 2700 participants resulted in 77% participant support for Rand Paul versus 5% support for Trey Grayson.  is that kind of support a sign that national conservative voices will speak out in Kentucky like they did in the elections on Tuesday in New York, Virginia and New Jersey?
Roughly 300- to 400-thousand Kentucky Republicans will make a choice next May, and their decision will have national political implications.  Kentucky is apparently becoming a key battleground for people across the country who seek to influence the future of the Republican Party.  One wonders if there are other third party groups, in the absence of the NRSC’s help, that would come to Grayson’s aid if he finds himself under siege from Rand Paul and the Club for Growth.