PADUCAH -- Thirty-six hours from now, Rand Paul could very well be Kentucky's GOP candidate for Senate. About 150 people who'd like to help him get there showed up at a plaza outside City Hall for a rally just now. I'd describe the crowd as "mainstream Tea Party": mostly male, mostly older, outfitted with American flags and yellow "Don't tread on me" flags, and angry about the national debt. No evident crazies, no racists, although the crowd was 100 percent white.
"Something is happening in America," Paul told the crowd. "This is a movement, some people call it the Tea Party." Paul touched on his expected win tomorrow night against GOP establishment pick Trey Grayson, noting that everything has gone right for his campaign. He also addressed the national debt and invoked the specter of Greece, "where bricks are being thrown through windows."
Then he got to talking about what seemed to me to be his real business: making the pivot from "Tea Party favorite" to "electable candidate for Kentucky." Paul noted--to boos--that some people had advised him to trim his position to appeal to Democrats, and renounce the Tea Party label. Paul made clear he would do no such thing. It sounds like he's going to take the opposite approach: try and convince independents and Democrats that the Tea Party has something to offer them.
If Paul makes it to the Senate, though, his influence might first be felt in other ways. Paul singled out for praise the obstruction of Sen. Jim Bunning, who he's running to replace and who has endorsed him, saying that "Sen. Bunning stood up and said 'enough is enough'" when he briefly blocked a Senate bill to extend unemployment benefits a couple of months ago. Paul threatened very clearly to take up that mantle. "They don't obey their own rules [on fiscal discipline]," he said of the Senate. "I will fight for it. I will stop the debate. And we will get balanced budgets."
The crowd was pretty reserved for a political rally, but that brought a roar.