Political Paddock: Rand Paul and James Comer might be Kentucky's next dynamic duo

Herald-Leader political writerNovember 17, 2013 

It was one of those full-body laughs where the person rears their head back.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul had just stood next to Agriculture Commissioner James Comer in Louisville and praised Comer for returning $1.65 million to taxpayers when the Lexington Herald-Leader asked the senator what lessons he had learned from weeks of media scrutiny and criticism over multiple accounts of plagiarism.

"Not everybody likes me," Paul said, cracking up.

He was in a great mood, back on friendly soil with one of his top allies in the state.

Looking ahead to 2015, it's becoming increasingly clear that Paul and Comer will unite to make a powerful duo as one man runs for the White House and the other vies to move into the governor's mansion in Frankfort.

The two men, both underestimated by their opponents at almost every turn, have each others' backs. While both are at least a year away from making any formal announcements, they are making moves behind the scenes that will make them more powerful when they do.

Plans are underway to base Paul's presidential run in Louisville, where on Friday night Republicans from all over the state gathered for a Paul fundraiser. Comer introduced the senator, and Jesse Benton, a longtime Paul operative and campaign manager to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, announced to the crowd that both McConnell and his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, were maxing out donations to Paul, including a check from McConnell's PAC.

As Paul stood next to Comer at the commissioner's moment of triumph early Friday afternoon, the crowd was filled with big-time donors, such as Terry Forcht, founder of Forcht Bank; coal titan Nick Carter; Louisville construction giant Steve Poe; and Monty Boyd, the head of Whayne Supply Co.

While Paul has spent the last couple weeks drawing fire from the national media and Comer has used that same timeframe to anger many of the commonwealth's old-guard Republicans, they clearly draw strength from each other.

Comer was the only statehouse representative to publicly endorse Paul in his primary against former Secretary of State and McConnell pick Trey Grayson. The commissioner posed for a picture with Paul in front of his truck, sharing the photograph widely in his district.

Without Paul's backing, Comer's "Fort Sumter speech" in Somerset, where he made waves earlier this month by calling out "party bosses" and declaring he "cannot be controlled," would likely not have happened.

Without Paul's quiet support, Comer might have found himself exiled from the party and on the fast-track back to his farm in Monroe County.

With his political big brother's support though, Comer made his stand and has seen his profile skyrocket.

After the event Friday and before that night's fundraiser, the two men appeared on Fox News Channel's "Cavuto," where Paul looked like the guiding older sibling, throwing a question to Comer to answer and nodding as Comer enjoyed a new and rare moment in the national spotlight.

If Comer could upset better-funded Republicans and nominally favored Democrats to win the governor's mansion, he would be in a place to repay Paul's support. The senator and his team continue to look for a way to negotiate a Kentucky law that prevents a candidate from appearing on the same ballot twice.

The law has a lot of Republicans scratching their heads as Paul has made clear he plans to run for his Senate seat in 2016 in addition to a possible presidential run.

A Governor Comer would be well-positioned to either force a change in the law or help Paul find a reliable place-holder on the presidential ballot in the state, someone who could guarantee they would hand over whatever delegates Paul might win.

Both men have a nightmarish obstacle course awaiting them if and when they make their future plans known, but it has become clear that success for one is success for the other.

Grimes-McConnell poll

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) on Saturday blasted out a fundraising plea, calling the results of a poll sponsored by the liberal group MoveOn.org "troubling."

The poll, conducted by Lake Research, showed Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes tied at 37 percent with McConnell.

"This is bad: Republicans are rebounding from their post-shutdown slump and are aggressively coming after Democrats," said the fundraising email, obtained by the Herald-Leader. "They see this as their golden opportunity to take back the momentum and the Senate."

Noting recent $350,000 advertising splurge by the McConnell-friendly SuperPAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, the DSCC said it had a "$150,000 fundraising hole to fill in the next 48 hours."

"Let's be clear: We can absolutely win here and keep the Senate blue," the email said. "But we can't do it without you. If we do nothing to respond, we risk letting the Republicans take an insurmountable lead -- letting them re-elect McConnell and take over the Senate."

Political Paddock includes Sam Youngman's observations from the campaign trail. Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Email: syoungman@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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