Rand Paul, the Republican opthamologist and son of a libertarian firebrand, on Tuesday evening became the first Tea Party standard-bearer to be elected to the nation’s highest legislative body, defeating Democrat Jack Conway in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race.
At a victory rally, Paul struck a defiant tone that was aimed, seemingly, at both political parties.
“I have a message, a message from the people of Kentucky: We’ve come to take our government back,” Paul said, reprising the opening line of his primary victory speech, when he said that he had “a message from the Tea Party.”
“There’s a Tea Party tidal wave and we’re sending a message to them,” Paul said, explaining the message as one of “limited constitutional government and balanced budgets.”
Paul noted that the Senate is “the world’s most deliberative body” but repeatedly said that he would “respectfully ask the Senate to deliberate upon this.”
The country is in “a debt crisis,” Paul said, and “the American people want to know why we have to balance our budget and they don’t.”
“Deliberate upon this: do we wish to live free or be enslaved by debt? Do we believe in the individual or do we believe in the state?” he said.
Paul overcame resistance within his own party during the primary and endured a rocky start to the general election because of comments about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the role of the federal government. He ran a more disciplined campaign after the initial general election furor, and overcame a challenge from Conway, the state’s attorney general, in the closing weeks.
In one of the nation’s most bitter and acrimonious campaigns, Paul was helped by a Conway gaffe late in the campaign. The Democrats’ “Aqua Buddha” ad, attacking Paul’s religious belief based on a 30-year old incident, backfired.
Paul was projected to win by MSNBC and CNN as soon as polls closed at 7 p.m.
Paul will be a conservative senator on steroids, with a political philosophy that is in many ways more libertarian than it is Republican.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who backed Paul’s opponent in the primary, said Paul’s “message of reining in outrageous Washington spending and the overreaching policies of the Obama Administration resonated throughout the state.”
“I am excited to have him as my colleague in the Senate next year to help us stop [President Obama’s] crippling agenda,” he said.
Sen. Jim DeMint, who backed Paul a day after McConnell came out in favor of primary opponent Trey Grayson, said Paul “overcame difficult odds because he consistently stood up for conservative principles.”
“Voters in Kentucky have done something truly historic today. They’ve said ‘no’ to parochial, pork-barrel politics and sent an outstanding leader to the Senate,” DeMint said. “When Rand Paul takes the oath of office to support and defend the Constitution, he will mean it.”