WASHINGTON — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul picked up the support of national conservative leader and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on Monday.
"I'm proud to support great grass-roots candidates like Dr. Paul," Palin said in a statement to the Associated Press. "While there are issues we disagree on, he and I are both in agreement that it's time to shake up the status quo in Washington and stand up for commonsense ideas."
The Palin endorsement, coupled with Paul's war chest of $1.3 million at the end of 2009, raises the stakes in an already highly competitive race for retiring Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning's seat. Secretary of State Trey Grayson, one of Paul's Republican primary opponents has more than $1.4 million on hand.
Paul raised $650,000 in the final three months of last year, topping Grayson's $450,000 for the same period. The candidates are neck-and-neck in overall fund raising last year — $1.8 million for Paul to Grayson's $1.7 million.
However, the Palin endorsement is seen as a coup that will play well initially with the state's conservative base.
"Palin is quite clearly popular in Kentucky, so this will give Paul a clear boost in the primary," said University of Kentucky political science professor Donald Gross.
"But, national candidates' involvement in state races often don't go over well," Gross said. "Palin's endorsement could lead to his being considered a fringe candidate. And his numbers aren't as good in November's general election when he would have to face a Democrat."
Paul said his campaign has received a $2,000 donation from Palin's political action committee and got word of the endorsement late last week.
Paul campaign manager David Adams said Palin's support was solicited by a Leitchfield mail carrier, whom Adams identified only as Larry.
"Larry called me about three weeks ago and said, 'David you guys need the endorsement of Sarah Palin. I have her home address. I'm going to send it to her registered mail and tell her Paul is a man of God and he needs her endorsement,'" Adams recalled.
Paul's candidacy is part of a national trend of Republicans positioning themselves as anti-establishment candidates and challenging GOP favorites. Palin similarly dubbed herself a "maverick" and Washington outsider when she was Arizona Sen. John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential election.
"We've been trying to reach out to her publicly and privately," Adams said. "I think what it came down to was Sarah Palin is an outsider, someone who's run up against tremendous resistance from the status quo, and Paul is the same. They're kindred spirits."
Grayson campaign manager Nate Hodson responded Monday by saying Grayson respects Palin.
"My guess is that if Governor Palin knew Rand Paul's true colors she would think twice about offering her support of his misguided agenda," Hodson said.
Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon, is the son of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and has leveraged support among backers of his father's unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign and the Tea Party movement.
Grayson, who was endorsed Monday by 28 state legislators and has the support of many among the GOP's establishment, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, redoubled fund-raising efforts after Paul's surprisingly strong financial showing last year.
"Our cash on hand lead shows we're running an efficient campaign," Hodson said. "We've been able to match the campaign fund-raising of the son of a failed presidential candidate."
Democrats in the race aren't immune from the political season's anti-establishment theme.
Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, who said Monday that he raised $1.4 million last year and now has $782,790 on hand, painted fellow Democrat Attorney General Jack Conway as the "Washington establishment insider in this race."
"We are very confident that Kentucky Democrats will support Daniel Mongiardo because Daniel is the only candidate in this race with a proven record of standing up to establishment insiders of both parties on behalf of working families," Mongiardo spokesman Kim Geveden said.
Mongiardo said he raised $225,000 in the fourth quarter of 2009.
The Conway campaign kept mum Monday about his fund-raising tallies as the deadline for filing end-of-year campaign finance reports loomed. However, Mongiardo conceded that Conway has raised more money during the past six months.