Come January, Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell isn’t going to be Senate majority leader. But it won’t be for a lack of trying on the part of Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul.
Paul actively supported Republican Senate candidates across the country, both in the general election and during the primaries. Paul even endorsed several swing-state GOP candidates the rest of the party had written off.
The upstart tea party senator signed off on ads attacking incumbent Democrats who were his Senate colleagues, a sharp break with the chamber’s collegial traditions. While some of that was based on Paul’s own legislative priorities — the commercials hit the Democrats for rejecting Paul’s amendment to cut off foreign aid to Libya, Egypt and Pakistan — they aired in battleground states.
That meant that in addition to bolstering the Senate candidacies of Republicans looking to gain traction, the commercials could also boost GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
For example, Paul endorsed Republican challengers Denny Rehberg in Montana, John Raese in West Virginia, Josh Mandel in Ohio, and Connie Mack IV in Florida. Only Rehberg was seen as having a good chance to win and, ultimately, all of them lost. But they were running in states the GOP needed to win to have any shot of retaking the Senate — and that Romney needed if he was going to win the White House.
When Indiana GOP senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock ran into trouble for controversial comments about rape and abortion, Paul defended him. “They’re attacking him because he took out a member of their ‘good ole boys’ network in the primary,” Paul wrote in a fundraising email. “Unfortunately, some of my colleagues backed away from helping Richard Mourdock today. But I’m not going to turn my back on a true conservative ally.”
Paul’s political action committee announced a “six-figure” media buy to assail Mourdock’s opponent, Indiana Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly, for his foreign aid votes. They also advertised against Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, while a super PAC supportive of, but not controlled by, Paul announced an ad buy to help Republican challenger Todd Akin.
Paul did say that candidates like Mourdock and Akin should be more careful talking about abortion, telling Roll Call, “[W]hen we get bogged down in talking about exceptions and bizarre sort of exceptions to rules, I think at that point we’re getting away from really what the primary thing that’s going on in our country.”
But Paul’s willingness to support even beleaguered GOP candidates gained notice. When South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham defended the Democratic senators who voted to continue foreign aid, Paul shot back, “Which is more important? Defending … a failed policy of foreign aid or getting a Republican majority?”
Similarly, a fundraising email signed by Paul said that people were attacking Mourdock “because they want to keep Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader.”
“Even if the candidates lose,” a Republican consultant told The Daily Caller News Foundation, “these endorsements are a good way to build the party and maybe even gain chits for 2016.” Paul is widely considered a possible candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in the next election.
In the meantime, he is demonstrating his party loyalty. When Paul was first elected in 2010, many speculated that he would repay Mitch McConnell for endorsing his primary opponent by backing someone else — possibly allied South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint — for Senate Republican leader.
But since then, Paul and McConnell have generally worked closely together. McConnell hired Paul’s 2010 Senate campaign manager to run his own re-election effort in 2014.
Additionally, Paul broke with many other libertarian-leaning Republicans by endorsing Romney for president. Paul’s father, the Texas congressman who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination, refused to back Romney. Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s record-breaking 1.1 million votes suggests that many Paul supporters also defected.
Sen. Paul is likely to urge Republicans to win those voters back. They may be more likely to listen, since he demonstrated he was a loyal party member in 2012.
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