FRANKFORT — Secretary of State Trey Grayson takes over next week as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, a position that could provide helpful political connections if he decides to enter next year's election for U.S. senator from Kentucky.
The high-profile role requires Grayson to spend more time in Washington testifying before Congress and urging federal lawmakers to act on initiatives important to the nation's secretaries of state, including a proposal to overhaul the way presidential primaries are scheduled.
University of Kentucky political scientist Stephen Voss said the job will give Grayson face time with Washington political leaders who could help in a potential Senate race by routing campaign contributions to him, providing political consulting, even sending political activists to Kentucky to canvass door to door on his behalf.
"Much of political advancement is networking," Voss said. "You have to have connections to the right people to get the money you need, the volunteers you need, the data you need to run a successful campaign."
Grayson is one of two Republicans who have formed exploratory committees to look at the possibility of running for the seat now held by GOP Sen. Jim Bunning. The other is Rand Paul, a Bowling Green ophthalmologist and the son of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
A third, lesser-known Republican, Bill Johnson of Elkton in Western Kentucky, has already entered the race.
Grayson's exploratory committee has raised $600,000 for a potential race. Paul's committee has raised $100,000. Bunning had left open the possibility that he might withdraw if his own fund-raising doesn't improve. Last week, however, Bunning told reporters he expects to have more cash on hand at the end of the second quarter than any other Republican candidate and that he doesn't intend to drop out of the race.
Paul followed that with a telephone news conference in which he said his decision on whether to enter the race won't hinge on whether Bunning gets out. He said he will make his decision in August.
Grayson hasn't gone so far.
"We're still exploring, still talking with people, still traveling the state trying to figure all that out," he said. "It hinges on a lot of things, a lot of different things."
Voss said if Grayson chooses to run, he will have an advantage as president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, a post he will assume next Sunday.
Just being chosen to lead the group is a laudable feat, Voss said, one that shows Grayson has the respect of his peers across the country. But taking over leadership of the organization in the same year that he could be running for a Senate seat is especially beneficial.
"It's little bits and pieces here and there, but add it all up, having a national post like this can really help a serious campaign," Voss said. "A lot of money these days in politics is passed around from one politician to the next. When a senator wants to rise up to a leadership post, one way they pay their dues is by giving money to other senators in a party. So if he gains their respect, they have this money that they pass around to other rising stars in their party, and he could attract a lot of that money from Senate leaders."
David Adams, a political consultant for the Paul exploratory committee, offered congratulations to Grayson.
"I don't begrudge Trey of any of the advantages of incumbency," Adams said. "We elected him secretary of state and he has taken that job and ran with it very effectively. However, I do think that the direction of the Republican Party is a totally separate matter, and while we certainly congratulate Trey on this achievement, we will leave that other discussion to another day."
Bunning spokesman Mike Reynard declined to comment about Grayson's new role in the national group.
Grayson said he wants to use his position to continue to push the idea of rotating regional presidential primaries so that the same states aren't always first to cast the crucial early votes that are so important in deciding political front-runners.
Grayson said he didn't aspire to become president of the national group to build political muscle. In fact, he said, he had no idea he would be pondering a run for Senate when he became involved in the organization.
"To the extent that citizens of Kentucky see that my peers have asked me to lead the organization, if there's any political benefit to that, so be it," he said.