FRANKFORT, Ky. — A week after a come-from-behind victory over the GOP's establishment candidate in a Kentucky Senate primary, Rand Paul is facing a possible challenge by the Libertarian Party and is shaking up his staff after comments he made about racial segregation caused a firestorm.
Despite his pedigree as the son of former Libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul, Libertarian Vice Chairman Joshua Koch said Rand Paul has betrayed the party's values with stands he's taken, and they were considering finding a candidate to run for the seat.
It was a startling development that could play a role in shaping the outcome of the race in November by siphoning votes from Paul to the benefit of his Democratic opponent, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway.
Kentucky Libertarian Party Chairman Ken Moellman said in a later e-mail that Koch was not speaking for the party, although Moellman didn't rule out the possibility that a Libertarian would enter the race.
The news came on the same day that Paul named Jesse Benton, one of his father's former aides, as his campaign manager.
The shake-up was announced a week after a round of interviews in which Paul dismayed fellow Republicans with his views on racial segregation. Paul suggested to MSNBC host Rachel Maddow last week that the federal government shouldn't have the power to force restaurants to serve minorities if business owners don't want to.
Despite the timing, Benton said the staffing changes have nothing to do with the postelection political firestorm. Benton replaces David Adams, who was made campaign chairman.
"Our team is remaining intact," said Benton. "We've clarified some roles and will be adding even more talent to what is going to prove an extremely formidable operation."
Rand Paul's father was the Libertarian presidential candidate in 1988. He is currently a Republican member of Congress from Texas.
Once an ally, Koch had strong criticism for Paul, who won the Republican Senate nomination last week by trouncing the GOP establishment candidate, Secretary of State Trey Grayson.
"He had gone from being an outsider candidate to a tea party candidate to an establishment candidate in the past nine months," Koch said. "It's a complete identity crisis. I've never seen anything like it."
Insisting Paul is no Libertarian, Koch called Paul and his Democratic opponent, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, "faces of the same bad coin."
The Libertarian Party doesn't have a strong presence in Kentucky. But the race is being closely watched as Democrats seek to reclaim a seat that is being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, a 78-year-old former major league pitcher who opted not to seek a third term.
University of Louisville political scientist Laurie Rhodebeck said if the Senate race were to be close, a Libertarian candidate could potentially take enough votes from Paul to affect the outcome.
"A lot of the Libertarian candidates are people with little or no political experience," she said. "They don't speak well in public. They're underfunded. But it would make a point."
Who the Libertarian Party might put up to run in the race was unclear on Wednesday. The filing deadline is Aug. 10.
The Paul campaign said it wasn't concerned about the development. "If someone wants to split up Kentucky's non-conservative vote more than it already is, that's OK with me," Adams said.
Conway had no immediate comment.
Koch said Paul's views on a variety of subjects differ from the Libertarian Party, including his promised support for any measures to ban abortion and his opposition to same-sex marriage.
"Trying to impose a national standard for that would throw the whole system out of balance, and that's definitely not Libertarian," Koch said.
Koch also said Paul is out of step with Libertarians in his unwillingness to call for U.S. troops to leave Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The reason why we would even consider running somebody in this race is because we're not going to let Rand determine what a Libertarian stands for," he said. "I'm here to say Rand does not have the Libertarian ideology."