By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
The national profile of Kentucky’s junior U.S. Senator, Rand Paul, continued to grow this week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Paul addressed the convention Wednesday night, right after his colleague from Kentucky, U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, and prior to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s speeches.
“Rand Paul’s speech was phenomenal,” said Mica Sims, a Lexington political blogger and tea party activist who was attending the convention on her own and not as a delegate. “It was greatly received by the entire arena.”
Paul began his speech reiterating comments he made last week in the state capitol at a tea party rally, saying the Affordable Care Act (which Paul and Republicans call “Obamacare”) is unconstitutional, notwithstanding the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the law this summer.
“The whole damn thing is still unconstitutional,” Paul said as the crowd erupted in applause and cheers.
Interestingly, Paul then moved onto decrying President Barack Obama’s comment that businesses don’t succeed without some government help (“You didn’t build that”) by telling stories of two successful Southeast Asian immigrant families who own businesses in Paul’s hometown of Bowling Green.
Paul described the difficulties faced by the Vietnamese immigrant Tiang family who own and operate the Great American Donut Shop in Bowling Green and their business successes.
“So, Mr. President, don’t go telling the Tiang family ‘You didn’t build that!’” Paul said, again to rousing applause.
Republicans featured minorities and immigrants Wednesday night in an apparent effort to reach out to those constituencies which polls show generally favor Obama over Republican nominee Mitt Romney. But it also might have been another part of Paul’s effort to broaden his appeal among establishment Republicans without losing it among the tea party foot soldiers loyal to his father, Ron Paul.
Phil Moffett, a Paul supporter who ran unsuccessfully in the 2011 Republican gubernatorial primary and who is managing the 4th District congressional campaign of Thomas Massie, said he watched Paul’s speech from home. He said Paul’s use of the immigrant family’s stories didn’t jump out at him as he listened, except as part of the “American story and the American dream.
“I think sometimes the best examples of people who understand (the American dream) are people from other countries who don’t have the freedom we have and then come here,” Moffett said.
But Moffett agrees Paul is trying to expand his appeal beyond just the tea party.
“You can’t win an election with just tea party and Ron Paul voters on a national basis,” Moffett said. “You’ve got to generate broader support, a broadened appeal.”
Paul is thought to be at least considering a national race in 2016 — especially if Obama is re-elected over Romney.
Sims was in the arena to hear speeches by both McConnell and Paul. She said Paul’s was better received than McConnell’s, but added that might have something to do with the order and timing of both speeches.
“It was not McConnell’s best performance,” Sims said. “But he was in a tough spot coming on right after (a video tribute to Ron Paul) and everybody knew Rand Paul was coming next. So (McConnell) was kind of caught in the middle.”
McConnell spoke for just under eight minutes and generated only a few mild applause lines. Paul spoke for nearly 16 minutes and was interrupted by applause several times.
McConnell said Obama has spent the past four years “lowering expectations rather than raising them” and wants “government-imposed equality.”
He said the economic recovery is the weakest in decades and “to call this recovery is an insult to the word recovery” to mild, almost polite applause.
Another problem for McConnell, Sims said, was that the Kentucky delegation got caught in the security zone and was delayed getting into the arena in time to hear McConnell. Most, she said, made it inside just as Paul began his speech.
It’s well known that McConnell supported Paul’s 2010 Republican primary opponent Trey Grayson, but the two Kentucky senators increasingly have forged a mutually beneficial relationship. Each frequently begins speeches before Kentucky audiences by praising the other.
Moffett said while Paul needs to broaden his appeal beyond the tea party, McConnell is wise to warm up to it.
“When we polled the 4th District during Thomas Massie’s primary race, each poll showed 58 to 59 percent of likely Republican voters identified themselves as tea party Republicans,” Moffett said. “That taught me a lesson and I assume McConnell’s people are polling and see the same kind of thing.”
Moffett also watched Ryan’s speech. He said the speech “technically was really, really good.”
Sims said Ryan “did a little better than I expected.” She questions Ryan’s fealty to tea party principles because he actively sought stimulus funding for projects in Wisconsin.
“I’m glad he’s changed his stance on a few of those things,” Sims said.
She said not everyone in Tampa is entirely on board with the Romney nomination. Ron Paul delegates are upset the Maine Paul delegates were denied credentials and Sims said many chanted: “As Maine goes, so goes the nation” and then walked out of the arena following Rand Paul’s speech.
Except for the tribute video (Ron Paul had already left town), the elder Paul’s name was never mentioned and his delegate votes were not announced from the podium (announced by Kentuckian Kelly Knight). Even Rand Paul referred to his father in his speech as “a certain congressman from Texas.”
RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.
By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
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