The Kentucky GOP Senate primary ended in a ‘Randslide’ Tuesday evening, with tea party favorite Rand Paul blowing by establishment-backed Trey Grayson by nearly twenty-five points. The question for Rand Paul is now whether he can withstand the coming attacks of the general election.
This November, Paul will face Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway for the Senate seat vacated by baseball legend Jim Bunning. Conway has proven he can win statewide, while Paul has yet to prove this. And while Paul wields his formidable grassroots organization to bear on his next goal, he will also have to fend off coming attacks from the Democrats over his weak points on policy.
On several issues, Conway might even find himself to the right of Rand Paul. Look for Democrats to hit on the following points:
1. Rand Paul’s Weakness on National Defense
Rand Paul has indicated that the possibility of an Iranian nuke doesn’t bother him; that he supports the shuttering of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility; and that he’s shaky on support for the surge in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq.
While Conway has also been hesitant to support the surge in Afghanistan, he has indicated that he favors increasing terrorism prevention funding and pay for active duty personnel. Kentucky’s 344,000 veterans will take note.
2. Rand Paul’s Stance on Drug Law
While Paul’s stance on laws relating to marijuana and other illegal drugs are unclear, what he has said is that the issue should be left to the states. On the other hand, Conway has indicated quite clearly in an issues questionnaire that he opposes the decriminalization of marijuana.
Paul has said he doesn’t support mandatory sentences for people selling illicit drugs. Conway, on the other hand, supported mandatory sentences for drug dealers during his run for Attorney General.
3. Rand Paul’s Opposition to Coal
During a campaign event for his father, Ron Paul, in 2008, Rand Paul slammed coal, an industry of great significance in Kentucky. “Coal is a very dirty form of energy,” said Paul, “It’s probably one of the least favorable forms of energy.” This has been an issue in the primary, and this will carry over into the election – Kentucky’s coal industry has an outsized role to play in the state’s politics. In fact, Kentucky has more coal mining operations than in any other state – and so the state’s nearly 20,000 coal miners and their families will be eyeing Rand Paul’s candidacy nervously.
Recent polling has put Rand Paul ahead of Jack Conway – but just by a bit. RealClearPolitics’ rolling average has Paul up by four. Although the ophthalmologist led by up to fifteen points in hypothetical matchups taken just months ago, his lead against Conway has slid to between one and four points in polls taken this month – not a margin where Paul can rest on his laurels.
Kentucky is a solidly Republican state – McCain won there in 2008 with 57.37% of the vote. Charlie Cook’s Partisan Voting Index puts it down as the 9th most Republican state in the nation. And yet pollsters aren’t buying the notion that the election in November will somehow be a cakewalk for Rand Paul: CQ Politics and the Cook Political Report still rate the race a toss-up.
So – Rand Paul’s supporters have tonight to celebrate, but they will soon wake up to a sobering reality – the race isn’t over. It has only just begun.
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