Republican Rand Paul, a political phenomenon making his first bid for public office, rode a wave of support from the Tea Party movement into Kentucky's fall election, where Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway promises to turn back the small-government movement.
After a sweeping victory over Secretary of State Trey Grayson Tuesday in the GOP primary election, Paul pledged to remain true to his conservative values in the fall campaign against Conway.
"Washington is horribly broken. I think we stand on a precipice," Paul said in his victory speech at a country club in Bowling Green. "We are encountering a day of reckoning, and this movement, this Tea Party movement, is a message to Washington that we're unhappy and that we want things done differently.
"The Tea Party movement is huge. The mandate of our victory tonight is huge. What you have done and what we are doing can transform America," he told supporters.
During his victory speech in Louisville, Conway hammered on some of Paul's more conservative views, such as his opposition to farm subsidies and many federally-funded construction projects.
"We cannot afford Rand Paul," said Conway, who said he stands for fiscal responsibility and will run a campaign based on hope, not fear.
Conway amassed a strong showing in Louisville, Central Kentucky and Northern Kentucky to narrowly beat Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, an ear, nose and throat surgeon from Hazard.
Mongiardo conceded at 10:15 p.m., saying that he had called Conway to congratulate him on a "very tough and well-fought" campaign. However, Mongiardo would not say whether he will help Conway in the fall campaign against Paul.
"I'm going to sleep ... get up in the morning, make some coffee and figure out what's next," he said.
Mongiardo blamed the loss on last-minute negative campaigning by Conway and a lack of funding. "We didn't have the money," he said.
Mongiardo was making his second bid for the U.S. Senate. He almost ousted Republican incumbent Jim Bunning of Southgate in 2004. Bunning decided this year not to seek re-election, setting up the contested party primaries.
Though Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 570,000 in the Bluegrass State, the fall race will be tough for Conway, say political analysts.
Republican candidates have shown a strong ability to garner Democratic votes in statewide races, said University of Kentucky political science professor Donald Gross.
"It's not surprising that Paul stressed in his victory speech that he will not back away from his conservative beliefs," Gross said. "There is a good deal of anger out there against the government. If Paul started talking like a moderate now, he would come across as disingenuous."
But Paul does risk appearing "too firm" in his opinions, especially if his call for a balanced budget means cuts in Medicaid and Social Security, Gross said.
"The Democratic strategy will have to put Paul way out of Kentuckians' mainstream values," he said.
Political consultant Danny Briscoe, who is a former state Democratic Party chairman, said Paul will run against President Barack Obama and his policies.
"The Democratic nominee has a tough chore and will have to spend a lot of time strategizing on how to win," Briscoe said. "Paul will say the Democrat is there just to go to Washington and support Obama. That's a lot to overcome in a state where the president is so unpopular."
Paul won the Republican nomination without the support of U.S. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Louisville.
McConnell endorsed Grayson late in the campaign.
It will be tough for McConnell to back Paul in November but he has no choice, said UK professor Gross. "It was a bad night for McConnell. He will have to be friendly to Paul but it will be hard for him to be friends with Paul."
McConnell issued a statement that said Kentucky Republicans will unite for the Nov. 2 general election.
"Dr. Paul ran an outstanding campaign which clearly struck a chord with Kentucky voters and I congratulate him on his impressive victory," McConnell said, noting that "Kentucky needs Rand Paul in the U.S. Senate."
U.S. Sen. Bunning, who endorsed Paul, called Paul "the right man to win in November and his victory today is a clear signal to the Washington establishment that it's time to shake things up."
Paul later said he will see McConnell at a GOP rally Saturday in Frankfort. "I think things will work out fine," he said.
In the campaign, Paul questioned whether Grayson was a conservative and tried to link Grayson with President Obama as "dangerous allies."
A disappointed Grayson pledged to "do whatever" Paul requests of him.
Paul was joined Tuesday night at his victory party by his father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who ran for president in 2008.
The elder Paul's national network of donors was essential in his son's victory. Rand Paul raised more than $3 million using Internet "money bombs," which his father popularized in his 2008 bid for president.
Former state Rep. Woody Allen, a Republican from Butler County, worked for Paul and was at his celebration.
Allen said early Tuesday evening when the Democratic primary results were up in the air that Conway would be the better Democrat for Paul to run against in the fall. Conway's base in Louisville would likely lean Democrat anyway, so Mongiardo's loss opens up Eastern Kentucky for Paul, Allen said.
In the Democratic primary, Conway questioned Mongiardo's integrity, focusing on the lieutenant governor's use of a $30,000 state housing allowance and state-paid travel expenses for such food items as crème brulee.
Mongiardo's campaign tried to paint Conway as a liberal and the contest as rural vs. urban.
Mongiardo, who received the vocal endorsement but little else from Gov. Steve Beshear, also played up his strong support for the coal industry.
Former Gov. Paul Patton of Pikeville and state Auditor Crit Luallen of Frankfort supported Conway. At the Conway celebration Tuesday night, they said Democrats will present Paul with with a united front.
"The Republicans are ideologically divided," Patton said. "There's a great difference between Rand Paul and Trey Grayson. The Democrats don't have that kind of divide"
Other candidates in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary were Darlene Price of Whitley City, Maurice Sweeney of Louisville and James Buckmaster of Owensboro.
Other Republican candidates in Tuesday's primary election were John Stephenson of Ft. Mitchell, Jon Scribner of Gray and Gurley Martin of Owensboro.
Todd County businessman Bill Johnson was on the GOP ballot but he dropped out of the race earlier this year.
U.S. Senate (D)
Candidate Votes Pct.
Jack Conway 228,531 43.9
Daniel Mongiardo224,989 43.2
Darlene Price 28,543 5.5
James Buckmaster20,539 4.0
Maurice Sweeney 17,810 3.4
99 percent reporting
U.S. Senate (R)
Candidate Votes Pct.
Rand Paul 206,812 58.8
Trey Grayson 124,710 35.4
Bill Johnson 7,855 2.2
John Stephenson 6,885 2.0
Gurley Martin 2,852 0.8
Jon Scribner 2,813 0.8
99 percent reporting
Herald-Leader staff writers Linda Blackford, Rich Copley, Bill Estep and Beth Musgrave contributed to this article.