Grayson's stock rises with handling of defeat

05/23/2010 04:15 PM

Trey Grayson gets a supportive embrace from Jim Weise of Hardin County

Since his gracious handling of his lopsided loss in the Republican U.S. Senate primary on Tuesday night, Secretary of State Trey Grayson has impressed his fellow Republicans and has them predicting big things for the 38-year-old.

“I thought he was just classy like Trey Grayson is on primary election night,” said Ellen Williams, the former state GOP chairman who is now a lobbyist. “I think the way he’s handled it and the way he will help during the rest of the campaign … sets him up to be really a candidate for whatever.”

Leaders of the party agreed. GOP stalwarts U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and former Republican National Committeeman R. Michael Duncan praised Grayson on Saturday for being “a class act” in the face of defeat.

Grayson said he took solace in the fact that it wasn’t a nail-biter on the Republican side, as it was for the Democrats with Jack Conway’s razor-thin 3,745-vote victory over Daniel Mongiardo. Paul won 58.8 percent of the vote to Grayson’s 35.4.

“Voters, obviously wanted to hire somebody else, but from what I saw, I don’t think it was an anti-Grayson message,” Grayson told reporters Saturday. “I think it was a pro-Paul message, and that makes it a little bit easier to handle. And I got blown out, so I don’t have to sit around thinking, ‘Man, if I had just done that instead of this, I would have won.’”

Grayson, however, hasn’t said what he plans to do after ending his second and final four-year term as secretary of state at the end of 2011.

“I still have some eligibility for UK,” he joked to reporters, then turned serious. “We’ll just figure it all out. It’s been an honor to serve.”

Jim Weise, the 2nd congressional district GOP chairman from Hardin County, said he wants to see Grayson take on Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in 2011.

“Trey Grayson has got a good future. I’d like to see him run for governor,” said Weise, who didn’t publicly endorse Grayson during the primary but privately supported him. “I think he’s got a tremendous reputation and has the credentials in terms of being a good conservative.”

Grayson has stuck to his role as the good soldier since Tuesday night. He repeatedly declined to weigh in on the flap over Paul’s remarks about questioning a provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for mandating that private businesses do not discriminate against customers.

And he made an effort at the Republican Party unity rally Saturday to say that Paul is the right candidate on some of the issues on which he hammered Paul during the primary: supporting coal mining and opposing abortion, for instance.

“Dr. Paul and I, while we had some disagreements, agreed on the most important issues of the day,” Grayson told several hundred GOP activists.

The first thing Grayson did in his concession speech Tuesday night was to praise Paul and offer to do whatever he could to help Republicans keep control of the seat U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning is leaving. Watch his interview with reporters after the concession speech:

Still, Grayson couldn’t mask his disappointment with a loss that he admits he wasn’t expecting.

“I really thought I was going to win this race right up until the end,” Grayson said. “It didn’t go my way this year. I’m very fortunate, I’m very blessed. We’ll see where it goes from there.”

The race went off the tracks for him almost at the start. Bunning urged him to file an exploratory committee before Bunning officially announced his retirement, making it appear Grayson was being given the inside track. But Paul, harnessing his famous political name as the son of 2008 GOP presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, caught fire with his message of slashing government, spending and the debt.

In perhaps the ultimate indignity to Grayson this spring, Bunning issued a surprise endorsement of Paul in April.

“I think he ran a good campaign, but I think he probably waited a little too late to realize that that Rand Paul was as formidable a candidate as he was,” Williams said of Grayson. “And he was in catch-up mode.”

It wasn’t until March that the Grayson campaign started aggressively challenging some of Paul’s past statements on national defense issues, particularly.

“His message just didn’t resonate with the voters,” Williams said.

This also was the first time in Grayson’s career that he found himself in a political dogfight. He cruised in 2003 and 2007 in under-the-radar races against lesser-funded candidates. And the fact that he had any elected experience at all only fed Paul’s outsider, insurgent image.

“Trey’s had a good run with great numbers before,” Weise said. “But in this election there’s been a great push against anyone who’s had anything to do with the government, per se. But I don’t think that’s going to carry over long-term.”

For that and a host of reasons, he said, Trey Grayson will be back.

- Ryan Alessi


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