Rand Paul plays outsider card in campaign to replace Bunning in Kentucky

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The race for Jim Bunning’s Kentucky Senate seat is on — and former presidential candidate Ron Paul’s son Rand is a contender for the Republican nomination.

As Bunning spends his final days on the Hill making headlines by blocking spending bills, his home state’s political hopefuls aim to sway an undecided electorate. May’s Republican primary is a toss-up, as is November’s election. Bunning, who at 78 is the chamber’s 6th-oldest senator, announced last year that he would not seek reelection.

Rand Paul is banking on outsider status and grassroots support to score a victory — a formula that worked for Scott Brown in Massachusetts. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and others in the GOP establishment have endorsed Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson in the Republican race.

Paul, a medical doctor like his father, is the Tea Party favorite and polls have shown him with a 10-point lead over Grayson. But some doubt he could beat a Democrat.

“I think what we’ve seen in Kentucky Senate races over the last few is that they tend to be close, and I wouldn’t expect anything different with one exception: I think if Rand Paul gets the nomination, Republicans will have their work cut out for them,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the Cook Political Report.

Duffy dismissed polling that shows Rand with a significant lead: “There hasn’t been a reliable poll done since August. I think this race is much closer than it appears.”

“While at the federal level Kentucky can be a pretty red state, it’s got a number of statewide office holders, including the governor, that are Democrats,” Duffy said.

Getting voters to the polls on election day will be key — with no other races on the ballot, turnout is expected to be low. Ron Paul’s large Internet following failed to show up in significant numbers at the polls, and some predict a similar effect will plague his son.

The Paul campaign is undeterred, and believes his message will carry him to Capitol Hill.

“The McConnell-Grayson machine is certainly on the attack,” said Jesse Benton, a senior adviser to Paul. “Rand is going to be a very independent Republican and he is going to hold both parties accountable when they try to pass things like unbalanced budgets. He’s going to be even stronger than DeMint or Coburn — they don’t horse trade, they don’t trade their votes.”

“Trey Grayson is the epitome of an establishment Republican, he’s been groomed for this his whole life. He’s never had a career outside of politics,” Benton said. “Rand has a flourishing private medical practice — he’s not looking to be a career politician. He’s going to do his one or two terms and then go back to medicine and helping people.”

“He’s running on a platform of term limits, and he supports citizen politicians who go to Washington for a while, and then go back to their jobs,” Benton said.

Attacks on Rand have tried to portray him as too far outside the mainstream — a claim Benton dismisses.

“Rand’s message resonates with people all over the spectrum. The liberty platform is really viable in a general election,” said Benton.

“The number of registered Republicans in Kentucky is very low,” said Brad Coker, managing director at Mason-Dixon Polling. “It’s a closed primary and that might favor the establishment guy a bit. Paul is probably appealing to a lot more independents who may not be registered in the Republican primary.”

“The history with Republicans in general is that they tend to lean towards establishment guys, just like they picked McCain for presidential nominee. New faces tend not to get through, they just give the ball to the guy who had it last,” Coker said. “Look at Rick Perry in Texas, he beat a sitting senator, probably because of the simple fact that Republicans like to stick with a familiar face.”

Contact Aleksandra at: ak[at]dailycaller[dot]com.