Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul and the states' long-feuding Republican senators, Minority Leader McConnell and Sen. Jim Bunning, are touting a pragmatic approach to keep Bunning's seat in GOP hands.
Paul, a libertarian-leaning tea party favorite, left little doubt he is set to work closely with the Republican political establishment when he visited Washington this week. He capped the trip with a National Republican Senatorial Committee fundraiser where he accepted fundraising help from nine GOP senators who backed the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
A senior GOP staffer involved in the visit stressed that Paul's preference for electoral success over ideological purity also came through in meetings with McConnell and the Senate Republican Steering Committee.
"He wants to win," the aide said. "This is not an ideological crusade. ... He wants to be in the Senate. That is a good thing, because Senate seats are hard to come by."
The staffer said Paul is approaching the fundraising and "rubber chicken" part of the campaign energetically.
And despite past hedging about whether he would back McConnell as Republican leader, Paul offered McConnell assurances about his support, another aide said.
"There's virtually no scenario where he wouldn't vote for McConnell," said Jesse Benton, Paul's campaign manager, noting McConnell will likely face no challenge after November.
But Benton added Paul made "no specific promise."
Paul aides have also been assuring Kentucky Republicans that the candidate will stay focused on his core message after he drew national attention with a fumbled response to his views on civil rights law.
After a primary in which the retiring Bunning endorsed Paul while McConnell endorsed his opponent, Trey Grayson, the two senators also appear focused on overcoming their famously frosty relationship to keep Democrat Jack Conway from winning the seat. Still, the senators are not quite working hand-in-glove.
Paul was escorted through the Senate by Bunning on Wednesday and attended a fundraiser with Bunning that night. Paul met separately with McConnell, who joined the Thursday night NRSC event.
"Even though Bunning and McConnell have been at loggerheads, they both want to hold that seat," said John David Dyche, a Louisville lawyer who writes a column on Kentucky politics. "These are all pros and big boys, and no one is going to stand on formalities and past explanations or statements."
This article appears in the June 26, 2010 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.