Tea Party Activists Support 'Fresh-Faced' Rand Paul

Many states are holding Super Tuesday contests this week. In Senate primaries, the party favorites, in both parties, face serious challenges. In Kentucky's GOP primary, the Republican's choice Trey Grayson is under assault from first-time candidate Rand Paul, who is backed by Tea Party supporters.

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First, we go to several states who are holding Senate primaries tomorrow, and in some cases, the party favorites are facing serious challenges. We have two stories. First, NPR's Brian Naylor on the Kentucky GOP primary.

Long-time Senator Jim Bunning is not running reelection, but the Republican establishment's choice, Trey Grayson, is under assault from first-time candidate Rand Paul, who is backed by Tea Party supporters.

BRIAN NAYLOR: It's lunchtime at the MJ Family Restaurant in Edmonton, Kentucky, a tiny town in the South Central part of the state, and Rand Paul has brought his appetite.

Dr. RAND PAUL (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Kentucky): And the food's making me hungry. But I hear it's pretty good.

Unidentified Man: Yeah, they got some really good food here.

NAYLOR: And while the fried catfish is pretty tasty, it's the appearance of Rand Paul that has brought Edmonton trucker Charlie Costello by.

Mr. CHARLIE COSTELLO (Trucker): I'm supporting Rand Paul because he is a fresh face in politics and is one of the people, and not one of the career politicians. And besides, almost everything he believes and says is things that I have believed and said for years and years. I'm just glad we finally got somebody that thinks like I do.

NAYLOR: Things like a balanced budget, term limits and a sharply reduced role of government. Paul wants to end earmarks, even in a state that's crisscrossed with parkways and bridges and dotted with courthouses named after the federal officials who secured their funding. He proposes cuts in payments to farmers, though notably not to doctors, reportedly telling an audience in Louisville last week that, quote, "physicians should be allowed to make a comfortable living." In a TV ad his campaign's now running, Washington is represented as a sinister sci-fi monster with metal claws.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Unidentified Man: Disastrous bailouts, busted budgets, the health care takeover: Big government is out of control.

Mr. AL CROSS (Director, Institute for Rural Journalism, University of Kentucky): Paul has presented himself as someone who is willing to go to Washington and shake things up to challenge the status quo.

NAYLOR: That's Al Cross, director of the Center for Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky.

Mr. CROSS: Even among Republicans, there's a substantial part of the electorate who aren't all that happy with the Republican establishment, Mitch McConnell being the chief example.

NAYLOR: McConnell is the state's senior senator and Senate minority leader. He was instrumental in persuading - some might say forcing - Bunning not to run for another term, and he's thrown his political muscle and organization behind Secretary of State Trey Grayson.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL: (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): I'm Senator Mitch McConnell. I rarely endorse in primaries, but these are critical times. President Obama's spending threatens to destroy more jobs. I know Trey Grayson and trust him. We need Trey's conservative leadership to help turn back the Obama agenda.

Secretary TREY GRAYSON (Secretary of State, Kentucky; Republican Senatorial Candidate, Kentucky): You know, I love meeting my Facebook. I thought I recognized your face with the - and the name. But...

NAYLOR: Trey Grayson has been touring Kentucky in the final days of the campaign in an RV, meeting Facebook friends and selling himself as a conservative who can work with others.

Sec. GRAYSON: I'm not going to be the guy who's going to go up there and hold press conferences and jump on talk radio and yell and scream and make a lot of noise and vote no and not accomplish anything. I'm going to go up there, I'm going to work with Republicans and work with Democrats when I can, and get stuff done.

NAYLOR: But in this year of the Tea Party, working with Democrats to get stuff done is viewed with suspicion, and making a lot of noise is what many Republican voters seem to want most: a sentiment pretty in tune with Rand Paul.

Dr. PAUL: We win things, not necessarily. But I think we've already gotten some national attention, but I think we will have a pulpit. If we use it effectively, we may be able to change things in our country.

NAYLOR: It's a message that has excited other Tea Party favorites, including Sarah Palin, while at the same time making the GOP establishment nervous.

Brian Naylor, NPR News.

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