Can Rand Paul bring the Tea Parties to the Senate?

Ron Paul's son is a card-carrying 9/12-er; he also has a real shot at being a U.S. senator

Topics: 2010 Elections, Glenn Beck, Jim Bunning, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Tea Parties, War Room, Ron Paul,

Everyone seems to agree that when Doug Hoffman drove his moderate GOP rival out of a special Congressional election last week, it said something about the future of the Republican Party. (Whether it boded well or ill depends on who you asked.) 

Would other looming intra-party ideological throw-downs confirm the Tea Party takeover of the Grand Old Party? We may get an answer to that over the next year. In the race for one of Florida’s Senate seats, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio is carrying the right-wing standard against the establishment heavyweight, Gov. Charlie Crist. In California’s Senate race, state Assemblyman Chuck DeVore recently earned the conservative stamp of approval — including the endorsement of Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. — over moderate GOP rival Carly Fiorina.

Rubio and DeVore are probably still both long-shots, though. Meanwhile, there’s a Republican primary race going on in which an obvious Tea Party-type candidate appears to be out-hustling the party leadership’s choice, and not many people are paying attention.

In Kentucky, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell succeeded in muscling his doddering colleague Jim Bunning out of running for reelection. McConnell had a replacement already in mind in the form of Secretary of State Trey Grayson. But Grayson was joined in the race by an ophthalmologist named Rand Paul, who just happens to be the son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul. He also just happens to be leading Grayson in early polls.

A new SurveyUSA poll has Paul up by three percentage points, 35 to 32. Obviously, that’s not an overwhelming margin, but given that he’s never held elected office and Grayson has won statewide, it’s nothing to sneeze at. Besides, thanks to the network of supporters he inherited from his dad, Paul actually has outraised Grayson recently, and will clearly have enough money to compete.

It’s hard to imagine any candidate better-positioned to scoop up the Tea Party faction’s enthusiasm and support than the younger Paul. His campaign is basically just the Glenn Beck Show on the road. He’s explicitly signed on to the 9/12 Movement, and likes to hit Grayson for hanging out with bailout-favoring Republican senators. He bashes the Federal Reserve. He even spoke at Boston’s Faneuil Hall on the anniversary of the real Tea Party. Because the 9/12-ers love them some Founding Fathers.

This guy is clearly the real deal for the right-wing. Though Grayson isn’t an obvious target the way moderates Crist and Fiorina are, it’s hard to imagine a better chance for the Tea Parties to get a vote in the Senate than Kentucky. And that’s got to have McConnell running a little scared.

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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