The fight for the GOP nomination to replace retiring U.S. senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky is one of the most interesting campaigns in the land. The establishment candidate, Kentucky secretary of state Trey Grayson, finds himself trailing insurgent eye doctor Rand Paul, son of libertarian gadfly Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. Grayson says Paul benefits from the current anti-establishment mood and frequent appearances on Fox News Channel, where he discusses taxes, spending, health care, and the Federal Reserve. But Grayson wants Kentucky Republican voters to listen to Paul's thoughts on another topic: national security. They may not like what they hear.
Grayson recently launched a television ad zinging Paul for comments made during a May 2009 appearance in Paducah, Kentucky. Paul, who supports closing the terrorist prison at Guantanamo Bay, said that "if you’re not going to convict them" -- he's referring to al Qaeda detainees -- "and you can’t convict them, and you’re unclear, drop ‘em off back into Afghanistan, it’ll take them awhile to get back over here."
Watch the spot:
Grayson has launched a new website, RandPaulStrangeIdeas.com, collecting comments like these. And he frequently highlights Paul's Gitmo lines on the stump. At a recent Lincoln Day Dinner, with Paul nearby, he read the quotation and asked the audience whether it was ever appropriate to "drop" terrorists off in a battlefield such as Afghanistan. A man in the crowd screamed, "NO!"
Paul, who's proven to be a savvy pol, would rather talk about economic issues than national security. He grows testy whenever Grayson brings up the American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan or Gitmo or his opposition to the Patriot Act. At a dinner in Shelby County two weeks ago that both candidates attended, the routine was all too familiar. Grayson raised the Gitmo issue and quoted Paul's own words. Paul delivered a heated response. And as the crowd left the event, Grayson says, a man came up to him and said, "I know who I want to vote for now -- not that angry guy."
Grayson and Paul share many positions. But, to use the old cliché, the similarities stop at the water's edge. "In foreign affairs, it's night and day," Grayson says. He's staking his chances on his ability to portray Paul as outside the GOP foreign policy mainstream. Of course, Paul's international views weren't enough to stop Sarah Palin from endorsing him in February. Will they drive Kentucky GOP primary voters away? We'll find out on May 18.