Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, together again


Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) listens during a news conference with other Senate Republicans to announce a proposed balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in the U.S. Capitol on March 31, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

It seems like an odd pairing for back-to-back speeches Wednesday night: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the tea party hero who wants to defeat the GOP establishment, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the ultimate Republican insider who backed Paul's primary opponent in the Bluegrass State in 2010.

However, Paul and McConnell have an emerging odd couple relationship that is not as antagonistic as might have been expected. Just last week Kentucky's tea party activists held a rally at the state Capitol in Frankfort, in which Paul gave a rousing speech attacking the Supreme Court ruling upholding much of President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Paul then introduced to the crowd none other than McConnell, who reiterated his previous calls that his top priority was defeating Obama in November. “This November, we need to make Barack Obama a one-term president and change the government,” McConnell told the tea partiers.

The budding relationship seems stronger than the early months of Paul's term. His first Senate speech was a direct attack on McConnell's political hero, Henry Clay, as Paul lambasted the Great Compromiser as someone who didn't stand on principles.

Over the next 18 months, however, Paul and McConnell have reached something that first appeared to be detente and now might be thought of as mutual respect.

By this past spring, Paul attended a fund-raiser for McConnell and, while he hasn't formally endorsed the GOP leader, seems to be signaling to tea party activists in Kentucky he will stand behind McConnell for re-election in 2014.

Still, their differing styles were on display in Tampa. Paul began his remarks with a loud assault, again, on the Supreme Court: “When the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare, the first words out of my mouth were: I still think it is unconstitutional!" He only mentioned Romney -- who his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), has said he could not fully endorse -- toward the end of his remarks, calling him "someone who has created jobs, someone who understands and appreciates what makes America great, someone who will lead our party and our nation forward."

McConnell, in his much more senatorial subdued style, laid out a case for why he believes Obama has failed, repeatedly praising Romney throughout his remarks. “For four years, Americans have waited for the faintest light to flicker at the end of the tunnel. And this President has let them down again and again and again. It is time to move on," McConnell said.

Paul Kane covers Congress and politics for the Washington Post.

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