Post-primary unity already on Republicans' minds

05/17/2010 11:16 AM

The GOP U.S. Senate primary may have divided some of the party’s biggest names but the one consistent message they’ve begun giving in recent days is that Republicans have to come back together after Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell interviewed by David Gregory

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell twice mentioned a planned Republican unity rally Saturday in Frankfort while appearing Sunday on Meet the Press, underscoring just how concerned leaders are about moving beyond the sometimes acrimonious primary between Rand Paul and Trey Grayson.

That rally at state party headquarters is about all GOP Chairman Steve Robertson wants to talk about. And organizers of the Scott County Lincoln Day dinner Saturday night, strayed from the program to give State Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, nine minutes to deliver a public service announcement about unity.

Thayer said Republicans “don’t have a lot of practice” with primary battles, particularly ones that get nasty.

“Remember the common goal” of defeating the Democratic nominee in the fall, Thayer told the 250 Republicans at the dinner.

Kentucky Republicans aren’t used to bare knuckle brawls among themselves. The 2007 gubernatorial primary between the politically-damaged incumbent, Ernie Fletcher, and tough-talking former congresswoman Anne Northup, was harsh at times. But many big names, including McConnell, stayed officially neutral.

This time, McConnell and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset have taken the rare steps of endorsing in primary and backed Grayson, the Secretary of State. Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon and son of Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, has attracted support of U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, who is leaving the seat that’s up for grabs in this race.

“I’ve not seen anything like this,” said Carol Rogers, chairwoman of the Fayette County Republican Party. One reason behind such a split, she said, is the undercurrent of the anti-incumbent mood among voters.

Also fueling hard feelings has been the tone of Paul and Grayson’s campaigns, which have pulled few punches in their ads and in Web sites, such as RandPaulStrangeIdeas and TreySpends.

So it only ratchets up the interest in seeing how they all interact during Saturday’s planned unity rally at the GOP headquarters named after McConnell.

“I think you always need a healing period after it’s over because people worked hard, they’re passionate for their candidates,” Rogers said. “So we’ll need a little time to heal, but then I think everybody will work in the fall to support their nominees.”

Rogers said Kentucky’s GOP isn’t the only state Republican party grappling with a contentious primary. Unifying the party for November was the main theme of a Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans earlier this year, she said.

Robertson, the party chairman, told cn|2 Politics the he doesn’t expect uniting the party to be “too difficult.”

“At the end of the day, we cannot afford to send a Democrat to Washington to help this president, to help Speaker Pelosi and to help Harry Reid,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we’ll have a very robust fall campaign.”

- Ryan Alessi

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