McConnell says Paul received warmly by GOP senators, predicts victory in Nov.

06/25/2010 04:45 PM

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell said Kentucky Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul was well-received by GOP senators at Paul’s first Washington fund-raiser at National Republican Senatorial Committee headquarters Thursday night.

“He said he’d come in here to help us stop the spending spree and get our financial house in order,” McConnell said Friday in a brief interview in his Republican leadership office in the U.S. Capitol.

McConnell said “a bunch” of Republican senators attended the event, but he said he didn’t know the number or whether it was more than the 24 who co-sponosred a similar event during the primary for Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who lost handily to Paul despite the public backing of McConnell and others. McConnell has since rushed to support Paul, a Bowling Green ophthalmologist.

Paul’s Democratic opponent, Jack Conway, has criticized Paul for being a “hypocrite” for attending theĀ fund-raiser Thursday night with U.S. Senators who voted for the bank bailout bill in 2008 after Paul promised not to do so in the Republican primary. Paul’s campaign has said that was a primary pledge to distinguish him from Grayson and now he will welcome support from all Republicans.

Paul’s father and an outspoken critic of the bank bailout, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, told cn|2 Politics in a one-minute interview outside the Capitol on Thursday that he hadn’t followed the controversy over Paul’s fund-raiser.

“I don’t know the details about all that. That’s his business,” the elder Paul said.

McConnell, on Friday, downplayed the effect of recent media coverage of some of Rand Paul’s public statements and background, including of the fund-raiser, Paul’s position on former Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s pardons, his formation of his own ophthalmologist accrediting organization in protest of policies of the existing board and his comments regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and Civil Rights Act.

“A lot has been written about things that are not going to be determinative in this election,” McConnell said. “This election is going to be about spending and debt and getting our financial house in order, and I would expect the other side will try to use a lot of diversions off on other matters.”

He said American voters are “focused like a laser” on those issues, as the strong reception for Paul’s message during this spring’s GOP primary showed. Paul defeated Secretary of State Trey Grayson, whom McConnell endorsed, by 24 percentage points in the primary largely on the strength of Paul’s criticism of government spending and debt.

“He talks about what’s on people’s minds and what they want to see done here,” McConnell said.

But just because that message has worked so far it doesn’t mean Kentucky voters have already made up their minds about Paul, he added.

“I doubt if they’ve made a final decision about any of this. This is only June,” he said. “But the atmosphere is good. I think Kentucky is in a pretty Republican mood this year. And to the extent that the campaign continues to emphasize the issues we know are on peoples’ minds, I think he’ll win.”

As for offering Paul any advice, McConnell said he has urged him to stick with what worked for him in the primary.

“I think staying on message is important. I think he thinks that as well. And I believe that he will,” he said.

McConnell said the Republicans’ effort to keep control of the Kentucky U.S. Senate seat will remain “a very high priority” in a year in which Republicans hope to hold seven seats being vacated by GOP senators and mount strong bids for at least 11 Senate seats held by Democrats.

- Ryan Alessi

Check with cn|2 Politics on Monday for more about McConnell’s view on the election, the economy and several other key issues facing Congress.

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