Winning Kentucky Will Be No Cakewalk For Paul « The Washington Independent
Kentucky GOP senate candidate Rand Paul may become the country’s first “paleolibertarian” senator, but winning over his state’s constituents won’t be as easy as many first predicted, notes Adam de Jong at The New Republic:
It’s often forgotten, but Kentucky’s political environment is not tailor-made for Republican landslides. The state has roughly 600,000 more registered Democrats than members of the GOP, and only a small pool of independent voters, forcing Kentucky Republicans to make their careers out of winning a sizeable portion of the Democratic base. Since the Southern realignment of the 1960s, Kentucky has elected only one Republican governor (Ernie Fletcher, who served from 2003 to 2007, was so scandal-ridden that he lost re-election and left the state party in shambles). And when Mitch McConnell won his first Senate race in 1984—creating the blueprint that Republicans have used to win statewide races ever since—both Senate seats were held by Democrats.
That blueprint works as follows: A GOP candidate must start by turning out core Republican voters in two areas: the southwestern strip of Kentucky, which is the only “culturally Southern” part of the state (Bowling Green was the provisional capital of the Confederate state of Kentucky during the Civil War), and the northern pocket of the state, which is a very socially conservative suburb of Cincinnati. From there, the candidate has to build outward and run up large margins in three key swing areas: the region around Fort Knox, which is heavily populated by national security voters; Appalachian eastern Kentucky, which is heavily reliant on government “pork-barrel” spending; and the moderate suburbs around Lexington and Frankfort (the capital), which are classic swing zones, populated by wealthier suburbanites who tend to be Democrats, but are partial to the mild-mannered conservatism of McConnell.
Paul has never been a best friend of social conservatives or come off as particularly hawkish, so much of this game plan won’t be as easy for him to pull off. In the crucial swing zone around Fort Knox, home to many of the state’s 350,000 veterans, he will face perhaps his hardest challenge:
In the past, Paul criticized the Pentagon budget, supported his father’s critiques of “American imperialism,” and sprinkled his speech with lines like, ”Does that mean you have a blank check for the military-industrial complex?” Now he appears to be hedging his bets, explaining that he thinks “the most important function of the federal government is national defense.” (A nice sleight of hand, since Paul doesn’t think the government should perform many other functions at all.) Paul has also tried to sound hawkish by talking tough about immigration, saying that “our greatest national security threat is our lack of security at the border.” Don’t be surprised if Conway tries to outflank Paul to the right on national security.
Add to this the fact that Attorney General Jack Conway, his Democratic senate opponent, is a local boy who’s not all that liberal, and Paul’s narrowing lead in the polls begins to make sense. In a GOP year, it’s still his race to loose, but winning won’t be so easy either.