The Republicans weren’t strong in Kentucky leading up to 1984, when Mitch McConnell was first elected U.S. Senator. They really pushed since then—they hold most of the U.S. Representative seats now, and in 2000 for the first time in history were able to take over the state senate. Through this growth, they really haven’t had the number of qualified candidates that the Democrats do. So they’ve done a pretty good job of making sure there’s one good Republican in the governor’s race, one good Republican in each of the senate races, and so forth. Two times in the last twenty years they’ve had contentions primaries in big races. Both times the nominee came out pretty wounded, and they weren’t able to coalesce when November came around. So if history is any indication, this might look like a Democratic year. But I tell you, from looking out the anger out there toward the Democratic Party, I’m not so sure I’d bet on them.
2. While Rand Paul is the darling of the tea party, his support is not just coming from the tea party.
While Paul is no doubt the tea party candidate, this race is not strictly about the tea party. We are still trying to get our hands around the impact of the tea party in Kentucky, as people are nationally. I’m not certain it’s strong enough to win elections on its own, and there are a few other things going on here that are interesting to watch.
Grayson is seen as McConnell’s man, and McConnell came out on May 4, after months of everyone knowing it, to finally, finally, say he was backing him. There’s a bit of a weariness out there of McConnell that’s probably been growing for a dozen, fifteen years. McConnell has been in the trenches helping select the party’s candidates, and folks are kind of tired of his kingmaker status. That might be working against Grayson to some degree.
Even though Grayson has been a Republican for thirteen years—a third of his life—some people think he’s a Johnny-Come-Lately to the party. He voted and volunteered for Bill Clinton in 1992. He kind of laughs if off and says in college a lot people tried marijuana, and I tried Bill Clinton. But you’re hard pressed to find people in Kentucky who didn’t vote for Clinton; he won here in ’92 and ‘96 and is very popular. There are a lot of Republicans who are former Democrats, but there are some who just don’t trust him because of that and are not about to back him.
Rand Paul is new and fresh, and he’s not backed by McConnell, and gosh darn it, they kind of like that idea. And his style and personality are figuring into this thing a lot. Grayson is a nice guy, a friendly guy, and he’s great one-on-one campaigning. But he’s a wonk, and when he gets up on the stump, there’s not a lot of spark there. And Paul, while he too is a bit on the wonky side, especially when he starts talking about auditing the Fed and that sort of thing, you can tell there’s a passion there. And I think that’s probably helped him quite a bit.
3. The Democratic battle between Mongiardo and Conway is really nothing more than a class warfare battle, rich versus poor, rural versus urban.
This whole thing started last year at Kentucky’s biggest political event, the picnic at St. Jerome’s Catholic Church in the little hamlet of Fancy Farm, in Graves county in far, far west Kentucky. Mongiardo shows up handing out silver spoons to point out the differences between he and that rich lawyer Jack Conway. Now he didn’t mention at the time that he himself is a surgeon who has invested in real estate nearly as much as Conway, who has a $1.7 million home in Louisville. But the idea is ‘I’m for the poor people; Jack Conway, who’s from Louisville, is for the rich people.’ Conway will dispute that and points out that when he was growing up, his dad, who’s now a very successful lawyer, was a high school teacher and coach who put himself through law school at night—that it was a very middle class upbringing and that his father’s wealth only came later in life.