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Rand Paul Tests Political Influence

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

These Senators have privately groused about some of the freshman tea-party-affiliated Members, who they feel have disregarded Senate decorum and tradition, assuming a combative posture while attempting to dictate ideology and strategy to the Conference. But not Paul, multiple Republicans have indicated.

One longtime K Street Republican likened Paul to former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas). Gramm, this GOP insider said, talked tough and honored his principles but played well with others behind the scenes, and rather than ignoring Senate rules and traditions, he used them to advance his cause.

“He has very good personal relations with the Members of the caucus, and I think he’s learning faster than most new Senators how to maintain his principles, but work within an organization that operates by unanimous consent. Some Senators never learn that,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told Roll Call. “Rand has views that sometime are very different than how the rest of us in the Republican caucus thinks. But he’s learned not to lecture everybody. He listens well but maintains his own principles and attitude.”

Among the more interesting developments during Paul’s short Senate tenure has been the bond he has formed with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). A productive working relationship on Kentucky issues has flourished into a personal friendship, with each Senator regularly reaching out to the other to ask for advice on politics and policy. Recently, they collaborated to prevent the closure of a nuclear power plant in Paducah, Ky., saving hundreds of jobs in the process.

Sources say McConnell has subtly communicated to others in the Senate that Paul is an ally and has his full support, even on those occasions when the tea party favorite uses the parliamentary tools at his disposal to force a vote on libertarian-minded amendments opposed by most in the chamber, regardless of party. They have come a long way since the 2010 Senate primary, when Paul defeated then-Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who had McConnell’s strong backing.

“They have come to appreciate each other’s strengths,” said a GOP operative who monitors the Senate.

Paul, who served as a top surrogate for his father’s presidential campaign, is viewed as having a softer touch and keener political sense than the Texas Congressman.

The Senator has forged relationships with colleagues and is viewed as measured and thoughtful, defying his father’s reputation as a lone-wolf libertarian outsider. The younger Paul’s more nuanced approach to politics was on display as well on the 2012 presidential campaign trail, where he would occasionally headline events that his father could not attend.

Still, given Paul’s constitutional views and his strong conservatism on issues of debt and deficit, it’s unclear just how much establishment support he could garner if he runs for president in the future. And while his relationship with McConnell is good, he has yet to patch things up with the rest of the Kentucky GOP establishment.

Longtime Kentucky Democratic consultant Jim Cauley wondered how Paul might ingratiate himself with the national GOP establishment enough to win the nomination.

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