Winning strategy was to let Rand be Rand

05/19/2010 04:40 AM

BOWLING GREEN — Back when Rand Paul was just the other Republican in the U.S. Senate race, his campaign prepared its first mailing — a plainly-typed, four-page letter that read like an entertaining term paper.

His consulting firm, the Strategy Group for Media, found out about the it and urged Paul not to spend the tens of thousands of dollars in August but to save it for TV ads later in the race.

“They said we’re wasting our time, we’re wasting our money,” said David Adams, Paul’s campaign manager.

Paul — an eye surgeon who often adds “and not a politician” to his title — and his inner circle ignored the consultants. In doing so, they effectively threw out the standard campaign playbook for the rest of the race.

Rand Paul greets supporters shortly after winning the GOP U.S. Senate nomination

“We know what the rules were,” Adams said. “And we almost set as our default position to just break the rules at every step.”

And it worked.

It worked so well that Paul defeated Secretary of State Trey Grayson in all six congressional districts in the face of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Somerset who backed Grayson.

But for all the recent talk among national pundits of the power of the tea party movement and the force of anxious voters propelling Paul, it was actually what Paul offered to those voters that ignited his campaign.

“There was a sincerity there and an attitude of ‘I’m telling you these things and that’s what I actually believe,” said David Dickerson, a Glasgow Republican. Dickerson first heard Paul speak at an event in Lexington he initially attended because he wanted to listen to Grayson, the secretary of state, speak.

Paul gave what became his standard sermon on that early winter morning: cut spending, slash the potentially crippling national debt, implement congressional term limits.

“He convinced me. And I’m a pretty hard sell,” Dickerson said.

Paul’s credibility as a messenger seemed to only solidify in joint appearances with Grayson, who at 38 was — and still is — a rising star in the party.

Paul, at 47, came off like a professor with his sport coats, rumpled khakis and passionate lectures. Grayson’s demeanor, in comparison, was more laid back but often rehearsed, which seemed to accentuate his pedigree as an Ivy League grad.

At debate after debate, Paul seemed to score not with clever soundbites, but on conviction. It was the difference between a student who memorized facts before a test and the one who fully grasped the underlying material.

That, essentially, was the guts of Paul’s campaign: Let Rand be Rand.

“He’s an amazing character, he really is,” Adams said.

So the campaign capitalized on that and the brand name of Paul, which had hit near-cult status among conservatives and libertarians after the 2008 GOP presidential race. The younger Paul played to the national media first, announcing his candidacy on Fox News and popping up on the cable talk-show as often as possible.

“When you start off a campaign, especially an insurgent campaign, you have to diminish your weaknesses and magnify your strengths,” Adams said. “The strength that we had was that he had a national name.”

From there, fund-raising occurred largely through the web. Paul held just three standard fund-raiser events that required formal invitations and chicken dinners.

That freed Paul up to hold court in Pizza Huts, college greens and tea party rallies.

All the while, tens of thousands of copies of Paul’s four-page (front and back) letters arrived in Republican mailboxes across Kentucky.

“I got that letter from him, and at the time, if I hadn’t been the type who likes to investigate candidates’ views, I would have gone with Trey Grayson,” said J. Larry Hodge, a Republican from Grayson County.

Instead, Hodge, 62, said he read Paul’s letter and got fired up enough to volunteer for to help the campaign — the first time he’d gotten involved since helping Republican candidate Larry Forgy in the 1995 governor’s race.

“This is the beginning of a revolution nationwide with no shots fired,” Hodge said.

And Hodge said he expects Paul’s momentum to build leading up to November — but only if he keeps sending out those letters.

- Ryan Alessi

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