If 2010 is a bad year to be a Democratic incumbent in the Senate, it may also be a bad year to be a party-endorsed Republican in Tea Party territory. Kentucky holds its primaries tomorrow, and Trey Grayson’s connections to the Republican establishment have done more harm than good. Rand Paul may join his father in Congress, as Public Policy Polling shows him leading Grayson by almost 20 points:
Fueled by a high level of unhappiness with the direction of the Republican Party, Rand Paul appears to be poised for an easy victory over Trey Grayson in Tuesday’s Kentucky Senate primary. He leads PPP’s final poll 52-34.
There are more Republicans planning to vote on Tuesday (41%) who are unhappy with the current direction of their party than ones who are happy with it (36%). Among those discontented folks Paul has a staggering 59-28 lead which more than offsets the 47-45 lead Grayson has with the voters who think the party’s current course is fine.
A Paul victory will be a clear signal that Kentucky Republicans want the party to move further to the right. 32% of likely primary voters think that the party is too liberal and Paul has a 71-21 advantage with them that accounts for almost his entirely polling lead. With the other 68% of voters who don’t think the party’s too liberal Paul is ahead only 45-41.
What may be more interesting in this race is what PPP discovered that this result doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that Kentucky Republicans want Mitch McConnell replaced as Senate GOP caucus leader; over 60% are happy with his performance in that role, including 58% of Paul’s voters. It also doesn’t mean that they want Paul’s father running for President. Ron Paul only gets 8% of the Republican vote in Kentucky as a presidential candidate.
Rand Paul’s ascension in Kentucky does mean that Republicans want the GOP to get serious about conservatism. Thirty-one percent see Grayson as too liberal for their tastes (only 6% said too conservative), and only 43% say “just right.” Paul gets a 58% “just right” rating. In order to understand that, one has to see that in addition to the 41% who disapprove of the GOP’s direction, 69% approve of the Tea Parties — almost double the 36% who approve of the GOP’s direction.
This primary will be a repudiation of establishment politics, much like what was seen in the rise of Marco Rubio in Florida. In this cycle at least, voters want officeholders to be accountable to the electorate and not the Beltway bosses — even if they like the Beltway bosses otherwise. That’s a message that had better resonate in the GOP, and in the Democratic Party as well.