What next? Conway vs. Paul offers contrast

05/19/2010 11:26 AM

Jack Conway and the Democratic Party started the general election for the open U.S. Senate seat about 33 seconds into Conway’s victory speech Tuesday night, going right after Rand Paul, who won the GOP nomination decisively.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jack Conway

Conway, the attorney general, referred to Paul somewhat sarcastically as a “phenomenon.” And he told the crowd that Paul’s more than 206,000 votes was less than what either he or his Democratic rival, Daniel Mongiardo received.

Later Tuesday night, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine issued a statement that first needled U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell for taking “a stunning loss” when his GOP candidate lost to Paul. Then Kaine launched into Paul.

“Unfortunately for Republicans, ordinary Americans are unlikely to be receptive to extreme candidates like Rand Paul in the general election this November,” Kaine said. “Rand Paul’s positions fail to resonate beyond the far-right Republican segment of the electorate that supported him tonight.”

David Adams, Paul’s campaign manager, said Tuesday night that they anticipate the Democrats and Conway trying that strategy first.

“He’ll try to paint Rand as fringe or whatever. And it just won’t work,” Adams said. “As Rand has become better known in the Republican electorate that tactic did not work. As more Democrats and independents get to know Rand, that won’t work.”

Paul, the Bowling Green eye surgeon, will try to link Conway to President Barack Obama, who is unpopular in Kentucky, according to recent poll numbers.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul

“We’re licking our chops to run against President Obama and his platform,” Paul said Wednesday morning.

He told cn|2 Politics that Obama is too liberal for Kentucky — a charge that could stick to Conway.

“I think he’ll have to spend the next six months running away from the president,” he said. “And we’ll spend the next six months encouraging the president to come to Kentucky.”

Prominent Democrats in Conway’s corner, such as former Govs. Wendell Ford and Paul Patton, said Conway can harness momentum immediately because the Republicans must fix their internal problems.

“Republicans have an ideological split, whereas Democrats are together starting tomorrow,” Patton said Tuesday night. “I think that gives Democrats a chance to take back the seat and I think Jack Conway can win it, won’t be a slam dunk, but he can do it.”

But Danny Briscoe, a Louisville-based Democratic campaign consultant, said Obama is perhaps the strongest bandage to mend wounds in the Republican Party — a subject on which Paul and McConnell can quickly rally against.

“They’re going to run against Washington. They’ll run against Obama, against (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi,” he said. “It’s a tough year for Democrats.”

Geographically, Conway likely starts out behind Paul in the 1st and 2nd congressional districts in the western and southern parts of the state, Eastern Kentucky’s 5th congressional district and the 4th congressional district in Northern Kentucky, Briscoe said.

Conway’s best areas would be Louisville and Central Kentucky, the two strongholds that helped him defeat Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo in Tuesday night’s primary. (Mongiardo has requested a recanvass of votes in light of Conway’s 3,542 vote margin out of 520,412 votes cast.)

But it’s the broader message — not the base of support — that should concern Conway the most, Briscoe said.

“If you’re Conway, what do you do? Do you embrace the Democratic agenda? If you try to run against Obama how does that work?” he asked.

- Ryan Alessi with additional reporting by Kenny Colston


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