03/28/2013 11:42 am ET

Rand Paul Endorses Mitch McConnell, Deals Blow To Potential Tea Party Challenge

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) endorsed the reelection campaign of fellow Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday, the Senate minority leader's campaign manager told the Daily Caller, in the latest sign of a crystallizing partnership between the two Republicans.

During his 2010 Senate campaign, Paul latched on to the tea party movement, repeatedly taking aim at McConnell and the Republican establishment. McConnell had initially supported Paul's primary opponent, former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson. While the Senate minority leader supported Paul after he won the contest, the son of former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) maintained that he'd be a persistent thorn in McConnell's side.

But Paul's endorsement shows that the freshman senator's political calculations have changed since coming to Washington. With Kentucky tea party leaders champing at the bit to take advantage of polling that has shown McConnell particularly vulnerable to a challenge this election cycle, Paul has decided to abandon the forces that helped propel him to victory.

As Daily Caller reports:

The move quashes a determined effort by Kentucky Republican Liberty Caucus chairman David Adams, who launched Paul’s Senate bid and served as Paul’s campaign manager through the 2010 primaries, and other tea party leaders to mount a primary challenge against McConnell.

While tea party leaders are reportedly still hopeful that they will be able to mount a viable primary challenge to McConnell, members of his campaign have tried to discount that possibility.

Paul's move may come as a disappointment to some members of the tea party, but it shouldn't come as a surprise. McConnell has taken steps over the past few months to seek favor with Paul and the more conservative constituents who helped him win in 2010. Paul has accepted McConnell's embrace with open arms.

As Time's Alex Altman recently reported of their relationship:

On the other side of the ledger, Paul’s support helps shore up McConnell’s credentials ahead of what could be a difficult re-election campaign in 2014. For all his swat in the Senate, McConnell is on shaky footing in his home state; one survey, taken in December by the liberal firm Public Policy Polling, put his approval rating at just 37%. His relationship with Kentucky Tea Party groups has been uneven. David Adams, the Kentucky strategist who managed Paul’s 2010 campaign, is working to recruit a conservative to challenge McConnell from the right in next year’s Senate primary, with attacks cribbed from Paul’s old playbook. “A lot of blood will pour out as we peel that scab off,” Adams says. Paul’s support for McConnell, and his willingness to explain to the Tea Party why McConnell’s leadership position requires him at times to stray from pure conservative doctrine, is a valuable asset to the five-term senator.

Earlier this month, McConnell joined Paul's 13-hour stand against vague drone powers and then sought to fundraise off his part in the historic display.



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