Days after Mitch McConnell’s resounding primary victory on Tuesday, he is turning his attention to uniting Kentucky’s fractured Republican party. McConnell, the longest-serving senator in Kentucky history, got a helping hand from one of the party’s young stars, first-term senator and tea-party hero Rand Paul.
Standing side-by-side at McConnell’s campaign headquarters in Louisville on Thursday, Paul expressed confidence that the party, divided in the primary — one poll had 25 percent of likely Republican primary voters saying they’d support McConnell’s Democratic opponent, secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes, in the general election — would unite ahead of the November election.
“I think the party will pull together very quickly,” Paul said at a joint press conference. “Senator McConnell was helpful in bringing the party together in 2010 and I hope to be in that role this time.”
Though Paul has often gone out of his way to upend the Republican establishment in Washington, he was playing a different and unlikely role on Thursday. He called his presence a “show of unity” and pointed out that, though many have focused on his disagreements with his fellow Republicans, he and McConnell voted together 87 percent of the time and cosponsored 144 bills together.
“So, he was right 87 percent of the time,” Paul said.
Four years ago, McConnell backed Paul’s opponent, Trey Grayson, in the primary but threw his support and that of his campaign organization energetically behind Paul when he emerged victorious.
Now, Paul is returning the favor, using his stature among tea partiers to rally them behind McConnell, who could become the Senate majority leader if Republicans take control of the upper chamber.
McConnell expressed optimism that Kentucky Republicans would unite quickly, saying it’s a “good sign” that several of the groups that supported his opponent, including the Senate Conservatives Fund, the Madison Project, and RedState’s Eric Erickson, have urged conservatives to rally behind him in the wake of his victory on Tuesday. He also pointed to polling from Paul’s 2010 race showing that 91 percent of those who supported Grayson in the primary cast their ballots for Paul in the general election.
There was just one question that McConnell wouldn’t answer: whether he’ll be campaigning for Senator Paul in 2016.