A 'Dr. Paul' In the Senate, Too?

Next to the announcement two weeks ago that veteran Republican Sen. Jim Bunning would not seek re-election next year, the biggest political story in Kentucky has been the race for the Republican nomination for Bunning’s seat:  Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who had already signaled he would run regardless of what the 77-year-old Bunning did, is competing among Bluegrass State GOPers against Bowling Green physician Rand Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.).

The younger Paul, one of five children of the physician-congressman famed for his libertarian views, has an impressive resume of his own.  A successful opthamologist, Rand Paul has been active for years in Kentucky Taxpayers United, a state version of Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform.  The Kentucky taxpayers’ group rates state legislators and its excellent rating of then-legislator Brett Guthrie a few years ago, Paul proudly recalled, helped the Republican win a difficult election battle by 124 votes.  Guthrie went on to win a seat in Congress last year.  

Yes, Rand Paul is a citizen-politician and proud of it.  But he is indeed the son of a national political figure with a small but vocal network of supporters in all fifty states.  And the “Paul machine” is clearly helping the son as it did the father; Jesse Benton, press secretary for Ron Paul’s presidential, arranged my interview by phone with Rand Paul last week.

“We’ve raised just over $200,000 so far — 40% from Kentucky and 60% from out of state,” Rand Paul told me without hesitation.  “Raising money from out of state will help raise the race to a national contest.”  But he quickly noted that the figure he gave me also included about $40,000 that was raised at a neighbor’s home the previous evening.

Based on history, opponent Greyson has some big advantages over first-time candidate Paul.  Along with holding statewide office, Greyson has the unofficial backing of the state’s senior senator, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.  

But Paul sees Greyson’s experience and “establishment” pedigree as helping his own fledging candidacy.  As he put it, “He’s been a career politician for twenty years and that’s what voters are mad about this year.  The folks who are upset about the bank bailouts, the government ownership of auto companies — they will gravitate to us.”  (Retiring Sen. Bunning, who opposed the Wall Street bailouts last year, has said he will remain neutral in the primary between Greyson and Paul).

Referring to the National Republican Senatorial Committee under Chairman John Cornyn (Tex.), I pointed out that they were not adverse to getting involved in primaries and were already involved in the Florida Senate primary between moderate Gov. Charlie Crist and conservative former House Speaker Marco Rubio.  Does Paul fear Cornyn and Company will do the same in Kentucky on behalf of Greyson?

“I hope not,” he told me, “and I hope the party will see that we have strong support and they will not make a hasty decision.”  

Paul is strongly pro-life, believes life begins at conception, and feels Roe v. Wade is unconstitutional.  He also strongly opposes the Obama health care plan, pointing out that “55% of it is paid for by government and that’s never a good idea.”  He also disputes the oft-repeated figure of 46 million uninsured, insisting that “one third of that figure make more than $50,000, one-third are under Medicaid, and 20% are illegal immigrants.  There are all problems there but you can take them all and lump them together and say ‘we’ll spend the one trillion to pay for it.’”

I couldn’t resist this:  is there any issue on which the younger Paul disagrees with his father?

“Yes,” he said with a laugh, recalling how his father would do medical work free of charge rather than take payments from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  “I do participate in both programs.  With my particular practice as an opthamologist, I have to or I couldn’t keep my practice going.”