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Tea Party rift in GOP makes KY race a national race

by Joe Arnold


Posted on April 13, 2010 at 5:20 AM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 13 at 12:50 AM

The national media, including the New York Times, can't get enough of the Kentucky Republican primary in the U.S. Senate race, primarily because of the upstart candidacy of self-proclaimed "Tea Party" representative, Rand Paul.

Kate Zernike reported on the race over the weekend, repeating what has often been recognized here, that in most any other year, the open Senate seat would belong to Trey Grayson.

 At 37, Mr. Grayson has spent more than a decade working his way up through the state’s Republican Party, courting officials and solidly winning re-election as secretary of state three years ago even as voters turned out a Republican governor. He has a powerful backer in Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior senator and the Senate’s highest ranking Republican. He graduated from Harvard, but his roots here go five generations deep. He even looks the part: monogrammed cuffs, rep tie and a not-too-stylishly-cut black suit over his 6-foot-5 frame.

This, however, is no ordinary year.

And in Kentucky, the Tea Party movement, with the voter discontent it has captured, has found its purest standard bearer in Rand Paul, who is challenging Mr. Grayson for the Republican nomination. An ophthalmologist, Dr. Paul is the son of Representative Ron Paul of Texas, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate whose libertarian backers often take credit for being the germ of the Tea Party.

 Meanwhile, check out Jeff Zeleny in the New York Times writing from the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, where concerns are palpable of a split in the GOP between the Tea Party set and establishment Republicans: 

 .... there was also a stern admonition for Republicans.

The warning was delivered by Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, who said that his party’s outlook could fade if differences over ideological purity intensified and created discord among establishment Republicans, the Tea Party and other ordinary voters, who may share the same frustrations but be turned off from aligning with any of the movements within the party.

“Barack Obama has worn out three sets of knee pads, down on his knees praying that the conservative vote is split in 2010,” Mr. Barbour said, speaking to about 3,000 party activists gathered at the conference. “We can’t let that happen. We can’t let that happen.”

I've been reporting on the rift for months as Rand Paul vs. Trey Grayson makes Kentucky the epi-center of the divide. 

As Paul told me in February after Sarah Palin announced she was endorsing Paul while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was quietly backing Grayson:

"I've always said all along Kentucky's going to be a big part of the national debate and this is," Paul said, "And we define what the Republican is, what the Republican party is, by the candidates.  And I think we're helping to shape and define what the Republican party will be."