National Democrats moved quickly Wednesday to try to marginalize the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Kentucky, Rand Paul, characterizing the Tea Party favorite as an out-of-touch, elitist and selfish conservative.
Democrats struck as the Republican Party infrastructure, which had backed Paul’s primary opponent Trey Grayson, coalesced around Paul’s candidacy. Kentucky Republicans are scheduled to hold a “unity rally” on Saturday.
Paul, who relentlessly emphasized government spending, deficits and debt, and intrusion in American’s lives in his campaign, represents the kind of candidate that Democrats do not want to gain traction in the coming months.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launched a web ad against Paul called “helping himself.” The 67-second ad used Paul’s past comments that he would “eliminate” the federal Department of Education, his desire to get rid of corporate income taxes, and his position on raising the retirement age to paint him as “against helping Kentuckians” and “for helping himself.”
The ad also uses a comment by Paul from last month where he expressed opposition to cuts in government payments to doctors under Medicare – a position held by many Democrats – but justified his opposition by saying, “Physicians should be allowed to make a comfortable living.”
Democrats criticized Paul for holding his victory rally Tuesday night at Bowling Green Country Club. Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan said it was “a lesson in how not to launch a ‘man of the people’ campaign.”
That led to an awkward exchange between Paul and an ABC television reporter, when Paul justified the country club location by invoking golfer Tiger Woods.
“People used to think of golf and golf courses and golf clubs as being exclusive,” Paul said. “But I think in recent years now you see a lot of people playing golf. I think Tiger Woods has helped to broaden that in the sense that he’s brought golf to a lot of the cities and to city youth. So now I don’t think it’s nearly as exclusive as people once considered it to be.”
Democrats pointed to reports that Paul refused to take a concession phone call from Grayson on Tuesday night. The Paul campaign has disputed the reports.
Paul swept to victory with a huge margin in the primary over Grayson, Kentucky’s secretary of state, beating him 59 to 35 percent, on the back of strong grassroots enthusiasm. Grayson was backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky. But Paul captured support from the broader national Tea Party movement.
Yet in the general election, Paul will have to appeal to independents and Democrats if he is to beat Democratic nominee Jack Conway, the state’s attorney general, in a state that has 1.6 million registered Democrats and 1 million registered Republicans.
The national GOP was slow Wednesday to respond to Democratic criticisms of Paul. The National Republic Senatorial Committee, asked if they were prepared to defend Paul from the attacks, pointed only to a memo by chairman Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, that was issued Tuesday night.
Cornyn’s memo said Paul would be a “strong and dynamic voice in the U.S. Senate.” But most of the memo was devoted to attacking Conway.
But Paul spoke up for himself Wednesday in an appearance on CNN, ridiculing the idea that he is outside the mainstream.
“You know what’s kind of funny is that what I think is an extreme idea is a $2 trillion deficit,” he said. “You know, the debt is spiraling out of control and I’m proposing things like a balanced budget and they think that’s an extreme idea? What I tell to the national Democrats is bring it on and please, please, please bring President Obama to Kentucky.”
The NRSC continued to go after Conway on Wednesday, saying he had been labeled “courageously progressive” by the liberal website DailyKos and that Conway supports President Obama’s health care law even though one recent poll showed 60 percent support in Kentucky for repeal of the measure.
And Public Policy Polling released a survey Tuesday that showed Paul may have trouble getting full support from Republican voters this fall, citing 53 percent of Grayson supporters who hold an unfavorable view of Paul.
Paul said before the election that he did not think the rift within his party would be hard to overcome.
“After the primary, I’m a big enough person that we can work together,” Paul said of McConnell, in an interview.
Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman and White House communications director to President George W. Bush, said he did not think the Democratic attacks would be effective.
“I’m sure they’re trying to do all they can to tag Rand Paul early but it’s not going to work,” Gillespie said in an interview. “I think the Kentucky voters don’t like this onslaught of spending and taxation and regulation and government intervention in their lives and they are not going to send somebody to Washington [to] support all that.”
Gillespie said he did not think Paul’s statements about eliminating the Department of Education would hurt the Republican in the general election.
“In this environment I don’t think it’s going to hurt with voters that you’re someone who is actually looking to eliminate federal spending as opposed to increase it,” he said.