Fresh off a tea party-driven win in the GOP Senate primary, Rand Paul said he plans to stick with his anti-federal government message even as Democrats suggested he is a fringe candidate who will make an easy target in November.
Paul easily defeated Republican establishment pick Trey Grayson with about 59 percent of the vote Tuesday night in a Kentucky race closely watched across the country as a test of the fledgling tea party movement's strength.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine dismissed Paul as an "extreme candidate" who used a small part of the electorate to win.
"Rand Paul's positions fail to resonate beyond the far-right Republican segment of the electorate that supported him tonight," Kaine said.
According to Paul's website, he opposes all federal bailouts of private industry and is against government subsidies for alternative energy like solar and wind power. He has called Washington lobbyists a "distinctly criminal class," and favors banning lobbying and campaign contributions by anyone holding a federal contract exceeding $1 million.
In June 2009 remarks in Lexington, Paul said, "Medicare is socialized medicine" and one way to control medical costs would be to impose a $2,000 deductible in the program. "But try selling that one in an election," he said.
In November, Paul will face Attorney General Jack Conway, who won the Democratic primary with 44 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo. Mongiardo barely lost the general election six years ago to retiring Republican Sen. Jim Bunning.
Paul insisted during his victory speech Tuesday night that he plans to stick by the tea party message.
"People are already saying now you need to weave and dodge, now you need to switch," he said. "Now you need to give up your conservative message. You need to become a moderate. You need to give up the tea party . . . The tea party message is not a radical message. It's not an extreme message. What is extreme is a $2 trillion deficit."
Paul, the son of Texas congressman and former GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, struck a chord with frustrated conservatives, and his win could embolden the tea party movement in other states. The Kentucky election was being watched around the country, especially after tea party activists helped to defeat three-term Sen. Bob Bennett in Utah and forced Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to abandon the GOP to make an independent run for the Senate.
Paul started out as a long shot against Grayson, the perceived front-runner in the race to replace Bunning, who opted not to seek a third term under pressure from Republican leaders who considered him politically vulnerable.
Conway, 40, used his victory speech to try to portray Paul as outside the mainstream.
"We have a fundamental decision to make in this most important of Senate races," Conway said. "Are we going to use that passion to heat the building? Or are we going to use that passion to burn it down?"
The libertarian-leaning Ron Paul, who celebrated with his son, said the outcome signaled the "the country is shifting in our direction."
Rand Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon, tapped into his father's national political base to keep pace with Grayson in fundraising.
He also had the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that Paul's victory is a "wake-up call for the country."
"This is a real time of awakening for America," she said. "We have an opportunity to not embrace the status quo but to shake things up."
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