The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rand Paul on Alison Lundergan Grimes: ‘I think she’s afraid to speak’ on coal issue

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) addresses attendees during the Republican National Committee spring meeting in Memphis, Tenn. in May. (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, William DeShazer)

President Obama's plans to dramatically curb carbon emissions from existing power plants will make it increasingly difficult for Alison Lundergan Grimes to mount a serious Senate campaign in Kentucky, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggested in an interview.

Grimes, who is hoping to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in one of the most closely watched Senate races this year, is already running radio ads in Kentucky that voice her objections to the proposal, in hopes of putting some distance between her and Obama, who is deeply unpopular in the state. She ends the ad by saying, "I approve this message — and Mr. President? You'll be hearing it a lot more when I'm in the Senate."

In an interview with The Washington Post Wednesday afternoon, Paul said that the Obama administration's decision to go after coal-firing power plans creates "an impossible position" for Grimes. "Most of her money is coming from people who are giving money to her because they’re very much for the president’s policy against coal. They’re from California, from Hollywood – that’s where a lot of her money is coming from," he said.

“So, she’s in this weird position where she has these press conferences -- or she very rarely talks to anybody and people are like, ‘Why won’t she talk to people?’ I don’t think it’s that she’s not capable, I think she’s afraid to speak. Because if she says she’s for coal and for Kentucky and for Kentucky jobs – which you think you need to be in order to win in Kentucky – then she’ll anger her left wing donors. And if she tries to please her left wing donors, she’ll get no votes," he added.

Paul said that McConnell will "solidify" the support of Kentucky Republicans, even those still smarting from the loss of Matt Bevin, who lost badly to the Senate leader in a primary last month. through the summer and draw the support of roughly 10 to 20 percent of Kentucky Democrats.

"People have hard feelings after a primary, but I think it dissipates over time," he said. "So I think the real key will be in about a month or two, when we get to the summer, are Republicans solidifying around him, is he still able to get 10, 20 percent of the Democrats to vote for him?"

Paul said he had no plans to engage in the bitter GOP primary in Mississippi, where Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) faces tea party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel in a runoff. "Enthusiasm tends to win runoffs, but I don't know which way the enthusiasm is going in that race," he said.

He also called the win by state Sen. Joni Ernst in a five-way Iowa GOP Senate primary "extraordinary."

Paul spoke with The Post ahead of a busy stretch of political activity that will take him to several states this summer as he continues mulling a 2016 presidential bid. This weekend he travels to Texas to speak at the state Republican Convention, an event he has never attended despite his family's ties to the state GOP. From there, he'll return to Kentucky to help open a state Republican party office in western Louisville, a predominantly black section of the city.

Next weekend, Paul flies to Park City, Utah to attend the annual meeting of former donors and supporters of 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. (Paul met with about a dozen top Romney supporters in Boston in April.) After stopping by the Romney meeting, Paul will fly to Idaho and Iowa to speak at state GOP conventions there. He also has stops scheduled in California in the coming weeks.

Asked about his travels, Paul was most expansive about the event in Louisville, where he noted that the city's African American population had been a reliable GOP voting bloc in the early decades of the 20th Century.

"We haven’t had an office in West Louisville, not in my lifetime," he said, adding later: "I’d like to see that again where we at least do better, much better than we’ve done."

The stop is part of his ongoing outreach to the African American community, a group that he believes is key to rebuilding the Republican Party's national appeal and ensuring that the party can win future presidential elections. In the past year he has spoken at predominantly African American charter schools in Chicago and Philadelphia, attended the opening of a Republican National Committee office in inner-city Detroit and gave a closely-watched address at Howard University in Washington.

Feedback from people he's met during those visits has been encouraging, he said.

“It’s not always ‘I’m going to change parties,’ or, ‘I was a Democrat and I’ve seen the light and now I’m going to be a Republican.’ But it’s usually good in the sense that they’re happy that Republicans are showing up," he said. "To me, there’s a sense that people think they’ve been taken for granted. In some communities, I show up and they say, ‘Well, we haven’t seen our Democrat congressman in 10 years.’ People are noticing that we’re showing up and that we’re trying."

Paul's scheduled stop in Iowa will come as Hawkeye State Republicans are seeking to put an end to years of fighting between tea party-inspired activists closely aligned with Paul and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), and establishment-type Republicans aligned with Gov. Terry Branstad.

The GOP troubles started subsiding last month after the resignation of Iowa Republican Party Chairman A.J. Spiker, who had served as vice chairman of Ron Paul's Iowa-based presidential campaign operations in 2012. The resignation came after Branstad's allies reasserted a major presence in the state party by winning a majority of the state convention delegate slots.

Paul said Wednesday that much of the controversy "has been overplayed and we’re kind of glad it’s over with." He admitted that some of "our people" had lost their state party positions, "but we really think it’s on the mend and on the upswing there."

Asked if he could quantify the sum of his "people" in Iowa, he quipped: "It’s top secret. I’d have to kill you." But then he added: "If I had to guess, I’d say we have several thousand activists that we communicate with on a frequent basis."