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To the outside world, Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul seem to be caricatures of two conflicting brands of Republicanism: a seasoned establishment veteran and a fiery tea party upstart. But the two Kentucky Republicans are trying to make the tension work for them.
In a deepening relationship that began last October on a NASCAR-coach-turned-campaign bus in Paducah, Ky., McConnell and Paul have come to realize that the same characteristics that make them so different also make them politically invaluable to each another.
Though few would call them friends, McConnell needs a tea party ally who can help him with a constituency he’ll need for re-election in 2014 as well as with an important faction of his Conference. And Paul needs an establishment adviser and someone who can translate his vision into a legislative record.
On the mid-October morning of Paul’s final debate in Paducah, McConnell showed up virtually unannounced with his staff. He wanted to spend the morning with the man who would be his next colleague, a man he didn’t know. After all, McConnell had thrown his support behind Paul’s primary opponent, Trey Grayson, a seasoned Kentucky politician whom McConnell had known for years.
But McConnell’s horse didn’t win the primary, and by October, Paul was in the middle of a campaign bus tour. McConnell hopped aboard and stayed the whole day, asking questions about the Kentuckians showing up to Paul rallies as well as about tea party politics.
“As the race unfolded, and you’ve seen an extension of this as they’ve grown to know each other better in the Senate, it became clear that you have a guy in Rand Paul who’s extremely curious, bright and has unique vision on policy — the art of politics — and you have a guy in Mitch McConnell who’s extremely good at the science — the politics, the process,” said Trygve Olson, a campaign consultant who served as the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s liaison to Paul’s campaign.
Olson added, “It was clear to McConnell after Trey Grayson had lost that Rand Paul had tapped into something that he needed to understand, and it was clear to Rand Paul that he needed to understand the science better in order to succeed.”
The relationship between the two Kentuckians isn’t always easy, but it’s one McConnell has been deliberate in cultivating, sources say, because of past problems with others in the state’s delegation .