Political Paddock: Rand Paul's potentially lucrative war on the Clintons

herald-leader political writerFebruary 3, 2014 

At a lunch in New York last week, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul sat with friend Nate Morris and the head of a Forbes 400 investment bank discussing the 1990s sexual transgressions of former President Bill Clinton.

It was agreed among the three that such behavior would get a business owner, a banker or a doctor fired, sued or at least severely reprimanded. While that might sound like the start of a bad joke, it might not be a laughing matter for his opponents if Paul enters the 2016 race for the White House.

Paul and his staff have insisted that the Kentucky senator's recent string of high-profile digs against Bill and Hillary Clinton was not planned, that he simply was responding to questions. Most notably, Paul answered a question on NBC's Meet the Press by accusing the former president of "predatory behavior" with intern Monica Lewinsky.

Still, Paul has leaned into the attacks on the former president and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner for president in 2016. Whether intentional or not, Paul is sending a message to his base that shows "he can take on the Clintons" and gives him "culture war cred to balance out his libertarian positions," as The New York Times' Maureen Dowd put it.

If it seemed surprising that Paul would take the Lewinsky ball and run with it, consider that not every move the senator makes can be an effort to broaden his base in the event he wants to really contend for the Republican nomination.

It can't all be about moderates, millennials and the Fourth Amendment. Sometimes it has to be about Des Moines.

But more than pumping up his base, Paul is finding another way to make inroads with establishment Republican donors who have been skeptical of his Tea Party-backed ascent.

Morris, a Republican fundraiser and co-founder of Rubicon Global, said Paul has been "a breath of fresh air" to GOP donors who have heard a lot of talk about the inevitability of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

Morris, who has been introducing Paul to a number of establishment GOP donors, described the donor class as "intrigued" by the Kentucky senator's no-holds-barred approach to the Clintons.

"I think Rand has been the tip of the spear in asking Americans, 'Do we want this again?'" Morris said.

'Commonwealth Duel'

KET host Bill Goodman, who is teaching a Politics and Journalism in the Age of Social Media class at Centre College this semester, charged his students with devising a way to help Kentuckians "gain a better understanding and knowledge" of the U.S. Senate race.

The winning project, Commonwealthduel.weebly.com, went live over the weekend. It's an aggregating website designed and maintained by seven Centre students that features a cartoon of Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dueling with joke guns. The site includes tweets, news stories and an issues page.

Jordan Shewmaker, a Perryville native and one of the winning students, said they plan to keep the site going through the November election.

The group is made up of Republicans and Democrats from a wide range of majors.

"We're actually pretty proud of it," Shewmaker said. "We never envisioned it would become what it has."

So is that enough to get an A from Goodman, host of Kentucky Tonight?

"No comment!" the teacher said.

Obama and Kentucky

President Barack Obama has had a rough year in Kentucky, averaging a 35.1 percent approval rating during 2013, according to the results of Gallup's daily tracking poll.

The president did worse only in Wyoming (22 percent), West Virginia (25.1 percent), Utah (27.3 percent), South Dakota (31.7 percent), Idaho (32.1 percent), Oklahoma (32.1 percent), Montana (33.1 percent), Alaska (33.5 percent) and Arkansas (34.9 percent). His highest numbers were in the District of Columbia (80.8 percent) and Hawaii (61.3 percent).

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

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