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Libertarian-Republican’s New Kentucky Home

November 27, 2009 Leave a comment

I predicted a few days ago that Kentucky’s Republican primary would be one to watch. The race is to fill the seat of outgoing Senator Jim Bunning. Bunning is known for two things. One is his stellar baseball career. He is one of eighteen players to ever pitch a perfect game (read: no opposing players ever got to base) and is currently 17th in total career strike-outs. The second thing he’s most noted for is being a reliable bag of crazy in the Senate.

His career got off to a less than auspicious start when he eked out a half of a percentage point win in 1998. That race was so nasty that former President Clinton made point of it in the interviews he conducted with Taylor Branch that eventually became part of Branch’s book The Clinton Tapes. Things got even worse in 2004, when Bunning ran a miserable campaign that ended up with him winning by just 1% when President Bush was swamping Bunning’s Senate colleague John Kerry by 20 points. Some of the lowlights of the campaign included: Bunning admitting that he only watched Fox News (great red meat for conservatives but probably not a good thing to tell reporters who are crafting a narrative on your race), comparing his opponent Dan Mongirado’s appearance to that of one of Saddam Hussein’s sons, and appearing via sattelite for a debate in which he relied on a teleprompter.

Therefore, it was of little surprise when word got out that Mitch McConnell and others were trying to have the “You ever think about not running, Jim?” conversation with Bunning. Indeed, top Republican even started preparing for a primary challenge if Bunning didn’t want to go quietly. Rather than just go out with a whimper, however, he went out with a bang, accusing McConnell of being a control freak, saying that one of his potential primary competitiors owed him money, kept up his intense focus on steroids in baseball while the economy crashed, and predicted that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be dead within nine months.

With lackluster funding and his approval at 28%, Bunning eventually got out, leaving McConnell’s pick Secretary of State Trey Grayson as the heir apparent. However, a funny thing happened on the way to Washington. Supporters of Ron Paul, whose firebrand libertarian-oriented campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 raised tons of cash and drew headlines while making little headway (though acute observers will note that he did come close to winning some little noticed contests and straw polls), were attempting to get Paul’s son Rand into the race. Rand had become somewhat of a darling of that wing of the party while on the stump for his dad in 2008. After Bunning stepped aside, Paul made his candidacy official on August 5th.

Again, most Republican insiders paid little attention. However, what they weren’t paying attention to was the groundswell on the internet, both in terms of money and support via social networking sites like Facebook. He currently has over 17k fans to Grayson’s more modest 5k. This is probably more of a testament to the Paulistas national spotlight on Paul, but no strategist would cast a negative light on that many potential supporters who very well may cross state lines to help Paul on the way to a primary win. On May 23rd, before Paul was even officially in the race (though he hinted he would get in if Bunning stayed out on May 1st), supporters raised $25k. On August 20th, another moneybomb raised over $400k.

Still, Grayson appeared the favorite. Then another funny thing happened. Word got out that the NRSC would host a fundraising event in DC for Grayson. That’s when Paul’s supporters got PISSED. They held a counter money-bomb that raised $186k for the campaign. This pushed the campaign over the million mark and meant real media attention for the campaign. On November 2nd, a poll came out showing Paul leading in the primary by 3 points. On November 4th, embarrassed over conservative reaction to this and their backing of Charlie Crist, NRSC Chair John Cornyn announced that the group would sit out contested Republican primaries, a move that was hailed by grassroots conservatives as allowing the people to decide (all the rage in our current populist moment).

Now, there’s further sign that big national attention is being graced on Dr. Paul (yes, he followed in his father’s footsteps in more way than one). From the New York Times (subscription required):

Representative Ron Paul proved to be a surprising presence in the presidential race in 2008. Now his son, Dr. Rand Paul, has become an unexpected contender in the 2010 Senate race in Kentucky.

Dr. Paul — an ophthalmologist and a son of the congressman, a Texas Republican and former presidential candidate — has become a serious challenger in the race to succeed Senator Jim Bunning.

Capitalizing on a hearty distrust of government and an anti-Republican-establishment fervor among conservatives, he has used the Internet to raise more than $1.3 million since he began his campaign in August.

“This primary is really about the future of our party,” said Dr. Paul, 46, who has lived in Kentucky since 1993 and has never run for public office before.

“The Republican platform specifically says we don’t believe in bailing out private business, and yet we did,” Dr. Paul said in a break between cataract operations. “The Republican platform also specifically says we don’t believe in government ownership of private businesses, and yet a lot of Republicans voted for that.”

As I’ve noted before, we’re seeing a new alliance forming between fiscal conservatives and straight up libertarian conservatives, combined with the interesting factor that many social conservatives are drawn to the Paul’s pro-life credentials. Will this continue all the way back to governance? Hard to say–one President already helped disintegrate that already shaky alliance. But a new one is bringing them right back together.

Paul’s race will be one to watch, as the primary seems to have quickly become nationalized beyond the borders of the sleepy commonwealth of Kentucky. This will be a curious race to watch, since Grayson isn’t exactly a Meg Whitman or Charlie Crist in terms of his politics. Still, this race will be a harbinger of things to come in terms of what issues will bring the party back to power and just what sort of candidate activists are seeking out to be their standard-bearer in 2012.

Moving the Party Forward

January 31, 2009 Leave a comment

There’s plenty of reaction across the blogosphere to the election of Michael Steele as Chairman of the RNC. One particularly interesting take come from an open letter to the Chairman by Matt Moon over at The Next Right. Of particular interest to me are two reccomendations:

Hold campaigns and local parties accountable. Patrick and Mindy give specific goals for Congressional and Senate races when it comes to raising money and recruiting online activists. Here’s what I would like to see. Ask every state and local party to give specific grassroots, electoral and fundraising goals. Publish those goals online. Reward parties that exceed expectations. Hold accountable those parties that fail to meet their goals. Shame works just as well as potential victory when it comes to incentivizing hard work and smart strategy.

Amen! While I am a bit skeptical that the RNC is going to be able or even want to reach all the way down to the county level, I think it is high time that someone hold county parties responsible, and at the VERY least provide clear directions and goals to the parties. My best idea at the moment: make it very clear to surrounding units what the goals are and publish whether or not those goals are being met. This will mean that not only internal but external pressure will be placed on chairs to shape up. Too often units become the equivalent of Republican Clubs in metro areas, and I bet you even many of them do more grassroots work than some units in the country. The excuse that committees are simply administrative bodies charged with holding a Lincoln Day Dinner and nominating candidates and that they should not be held accountable when goals are not met should be absolutely unacceptable in Steele’s RNC. 

I also wholeheartedly support the idea that the RNC should pursue a “vineyard” strategy to start at the very local level to produce not only good candidates but good ideas. Too often this is where troublesome politicians get their start. Take the case of Emmett Hanger, who started at the bottom and work his way up through the ranks based on his popularity and not on his ideas. We now have a Senator in that seat that is often extremely unresponsive to the ideas and suggestions of principled activists. However, we cannot expect the RNC to provide all the momentum here. I call upon all conservatives to PAY ATTENTION to local politics. These people will want to move up some day, but you need to be in the game to see if they are deserving of our support based on their principles, not just on their social network. Remember: Not everything that affects you and your family happens in Congress.

You Won, Now Get to Work!

January 31, 2009 1 comment

Former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele won the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee yesterday afternoon with ninty-one votes on the sixth ballot. It was a harrowing contest, though Steele started out in a good position just a few votes behind incumbent Mike Duncan. Duncan ended up being the first to bow out, as by the third ballot eight of his supporters had peeled off and Steele  and in a surprise most of his support shifted to South Carolina Chair Katon Dawson, thrusting him into the lead with sixty-two votes to Steele’s 60 on the fourth ballot.

Conventional wisdom going into the vote was that former Ohio Secretary of State and social conservative activist Kenneth Blackwell would stand the most to gain from Duncan’s departure; however, by the fourth ballot it was clear the Blackwell was losing support, leading to his departure. Blackwell endorsed Steele on his way out (an important move, given that Steele was viewed with skepticism by conservatives from the beginning), giving Steele 79 votes on the fifth ballot, just short of the six votes needed to win. 

At this point, Michigan GOP Saul Anuzis was still in the game but way behind. Standing with twenty votes, he was in a position to be a kingmaker. Twitter updates indicated that both candidates conferred with Anuzis. In the end, though, Anuzis left the race but endorsed neither candidate. At that point, Dawson had sixty-nine votes, meaning he needed over 3/ths of Anuzis’ supporters to break his way. 

Didn’t happen. Steele picked up twelve votes and carried the day with ninety one votes. 

So we have a chair; now what?

Read more…

A Call to Arms

January 15, 2009 Leave a comment

At the dawn of a new legislative session, the Virginia Crime Commission met to consider its recommendations on a large number of bills affecting public safety. Of course, as always, this included a large number of bills regarding guns. And of course, as always, there were a number of absolutely ludicrous ideas. Fortunately the Commission shot down a bill that would have required a background check for all private sales. 

However, the commission DID give its seal of approval to language that would assess a fee on gun show organizers for the cost of State Troopers to be at gun shows. This is the dream of anti-gun forces everywhere: to regulate private gun sales out of business, first by focusing on gun shows. I would wager that most of the people who come up with these ideas have never visited a gun show, and are not familiar with the fact that a) all federally licensed firearms dealers are required to run a background check for EVERY sale, even at gun shows and b) gun show organizers are extremely careful and aware of the risks that such an event carries.  And trust me: the ATF is VERY good at finding people who are unlawfully involved in bulk firearm sales. 

The goal here is to regulate private gun ownership our of existence in bits and pieces. By using scare tactics surrounding violent incidents (and don’t think for a second that this has nothing to do with the Tech tragedies), anti-gun activists know that they can get the public support to implement their piece-mill strategy to take guns out of private citizens hands, regardless of their needs for personal security and with no respect for the fundamental balance of power that underpins our American democracy. 

So just who recommended this atrocious language? Why, Ken Stolle…..a REPUBLICAN state senator from Virginia Beach. 

Thanks, Senator. Guess where we know your allegiances lie.