“Rand is a realist. And he is a patriot. And if the results through Iowa and New Hampshire are not favorable, I think he would look at the presidential race differently,” said former Jefferson County Republican Chairman Bill Stone, a Paul supporter.
To be sure, Kentucky has become safe territory for Republicans in federal races. The state’s deep antipathy to President Obama fueled McConnell’s surprisingly comfortable win over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes last year, and helped Rand Paul’s unconventional campaign coast to victory against Democrat Jack Conway—now the party’s standard-bearer for governor—in 2010. Kentucky hasn’t elected a Democratic senator to office since Wendell Ford in 1992, and five of the state’s six House seats are now held by Republicans.
But there’s a long Democratic tradition in the Bluegrass State—Democrats have held the governor’s office for 40 of the past 44 years and control the state House of Representatives—and Republican candidates have proven that they can be vulnerable in unique circumstances. Veteran former Sen. Jim Bunning nearly lost to a little-known Democrat in his 2004 reelection due to his erratic behavior on the campaign trail. In a dismal year for Republicans (2008), McConnell only won 53 percent of the vote against a wealthy self-financing Democratic businessman. And Democrats are narrowly favored to win this week’s governor’s race, even though the environment for the party is as inhospitable as it has ever been. Many establishment-oriented Republicans blame that on Bevin’s uneven campaign.
Still, even if it would take incredible circumstances for Paul to lose a reelection bid, Republicans have no interest in spending any money on what should be a slam-dunk race in McConnell’s home state. If Conway wins the governor’s race, most Democratic strategists in Kentucky expect Edelen to run for the Senate. To Republicans, Edelen is seen as a Bill Clinton-type that Democrats in the state haven’t seen in a long time—centrist, politically savvy, and a dynamic speaker. One Republican strategist in Kentucky said he’d potentially be able to connect with working-class voters drifting away from the party, and as a hawkish Democrat, could run to Paul’s right on foreign policy. Interestingly, the one obvious line of attack against him is similar to the criticism of Paul—that he’s a young man in a hurry.
“It would be a shock to me if Adam didn’t immediately run for the Senate against Rand. For a Democrat in Kentucky, he’s really good,” said Stone. “He’s very talented, intelligent—and a political fraud. Because he has absolutely no intention of serving his second term as auditor.”