Bryan Mills, a Republican Party official in Laurel County, spent Thursday squiring Rand Paul's campaign chairman to more than a dozen meetings with Republican officeholders.
That's not unusual, because Paul is the party's nominee for U.S. Senate.
But Paul ran outside the party establishment, against a man endorsed by leaders of that establishment and without the support of many in the party structure.
"It happened, and we've got to not pretend it didn't happen, and we've got to build a bridge back," said Mills, chairman of the Laurel County Republican Party.
Efforts to reconstruct that bridge are growing as Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon, gears up for what promises to be a hard-fought campaign against Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee.
Mills, one party regular who supported Paul, organized the daylong series of meetings between David Adams, Paul's campaign chairman, and Laurel County Republicans who did not support Paul in the spring.
Paul supporters in other counties are working to arrange similar meetings, and supporters of Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who lost to Paul in the primary, have come on board to help host fund-raisers this summer.
"I think the party is quickly coming back together," said Jack Richardson IV, a member of the state GOP executive committee.
Adams said moves to unite the GOP actually began even before Paul beat Grayson by more than 23 percent.
With polls showing Paul far ahead, Grayson supporters told Paul before the election they would come on board for the fall, Adams said.
There are always divisions in primaries, creating a need to patch them up going into the general election. Conway is reaching out to supporters of Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, the man he narrowly defeated.
But some Republicans felt public endorsements by party leaders emphasized the divide between Paul and the party machinery.
While retiring Republican Sen. Jim Bunning endorsed Paul to succeed him, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell endorsed Grayson.
So did Republican U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers of Somerset, the top Republican in the 5th District for three decades.
That didn't sit well with some.
"Personally, I think they should have stayed out of it," said Ronnie Gregory of Laurel County, a retired factory worker and activist in the Tea Party movement.
From outsider to nominee
The race had a sharp edge.
Some Paul supporters said the Grayson camp drove the wedge deep by not only going after Paul on policy differences, but also trying to portray him as a kook espousing fringe ideas — the same thing Democrats will do in the general election.
Grayson's supporters, meanwhile, worried that it will be easier for Democrats to paint Paul and some of his libertarian ideas as extreme.
"The day after (the primary), I think people realized, 'Oh crap, what happened here?' " said Debra Masterson of Meade County, a Republican who has attended Tea Party-movement meetings but supported Grayson in the primary.
Some say the divide on the Republican side was deeper than among Democrats because Paul and Grayson were further apart, ideologically, than Conway and Mongiardo.
Publicly, McConnell, Grayson and the state's GOP structure have rallied behind Paul after his commanding win. McConnell said last week he will hold a fund-raiser for Paul in Washington.
Privately, there has been talk that some Grayson supporters won't warm up to Paul. Some will back Paul; others will vote for him but won't work for him, Masterson said.
"We will support him but not be happy," she said.
That attitude could affect Paul's fund-raising. Most of the state "establishment" GOP money went to Grayson in the spring.
Others, however, say Republicans will be fully behind Paul because, whatever their feelings in the primary, they want a Republican win.
"The Republicans are going to lick their wounds quite quickly and move on," said James H. Weise, the 2nd District Republican Party chairman. "The establishment has a candidate. The candidate's name is Dr. Rand Paul."
Tea Party threads
There is also the question of working with the Tea Party movement. Activists have criticized Republicans and Democrats over spending and the federal deficit.
GOP observers and Tea Party activists say there are Republicans, Democrats and independents in the movement. In the main, though, they are Republicans, according to a New York Times poll.
The common thread is that they say the federal government is too deep in debt, taxes too heavily and reaches beyond its constitutional limits.
"Let's face it. The Tea Party folks are going to have to align, as a practical matter, with the folks who are most conservative," said Weise.
In Kentucky's Senate race, that's Paul, he said.
Tea Partiers backed Paul strongly in the primary.
Many activists weren't happy with deficit spending under President George W. Bush but were finally galvanized to act as the debt grew under President Obama, the government bailed out big businesses and Congress approved a health care overhaul that many saw as too costly and intrusive.
"I guess all I could say is, there is a tipping point," Debra Tennison of Hardin County, said in explaining why she became a Tea Party organizer.
The GOP establishment and Tea Party people are a little leery of one another, said Mills, the Laurel County Republican chairman.
On the one hand are people who, in many cases, have invested years in party activities and have a place in the hierarchy. On the other are people who argue the party has slipped its moorings.
Adams said Republicans have the opportunity to combine old hands who know the ropes with newcomers who have great enthusiasm.
"We're bringing in some new people, and they don't know how to go slow," he said.
Russ Randall, the 1st District Republican chairman, said there is no real disconnect between the Tea Party movement and the GOP. If the activists drafted a platform, it would essentially be the Republican platform — the one many think the party isn't following, Randall said.
"I just hope all Republicans realize how powerful a movement this is," he said.
The fact that the establishment GOP candidate lost by a wide margin in the primary clearly shows the party needs to harness the energy that beat Grayson, said Rep. James Comer, a Republican from Monroe County.
"I think we need some new blood in there," he said.