If you live in Kentucky, and you are a Republican, and you vote, you are to be forgiven if you are confused.
If you look to establishment endorsements from familiar GOP politicians or conservative activists for clues, you'll find new meaning in the term "mixed signals."
The interesting political microcosm stands so: Jim Bunning, former baseball star and current Kentucky GOP senator fell from fundraiser favor in the past two years. Bunning has been a standard party soldier but a substandard public figure. He is the Republican negative of Joe Biden, the human gaffe machine. His foot-in-mouth disease is likely the largest contributing factor to his decline in popularity. But you may also know Bunning from his most recent headlines foray as the lone opposition to the extension of unemployment benefits. Citing President Obama's pay-go philosophy, he insisted we pay for the extension rather than finance it. It was a Quixotic stand, something he no doubt was fully aware of, and you have to wonder if he would have been so principled were he planning on a reelection bid.
On Primary Day, May 18, the vacated seat could have been almost a coronation event for KY Secretary of State Trey Grayson, had it not been for an eye doctor from western KY with the same DNA and same hot, cross-voter, small government appeal as '08 presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Last time out, in an election environment largely unfavorable to Republicans, Grayson won reelection by 14%.
And, considering that Ron Paul was certainly no party loyalist, and considering that Rand Paul is certainly his father's son, if somewhat less libertarian, Grayson had every right to expect smooth sailing.
But Grayson is fighting hard for this seat, and looks ready to lose to Paul.
Guilt by association has been one of Grayson's campaign tactics against Paul.
He ties Rand to his father on issues of national security. Neither Paul is a dove, but both tend toward isolationism, and a decidedly anti-Bush approach to the "spread of democracy."
Grayson also makes hay out of the fact that some of Ron Paul's money goes to fund his son's campaign in an effort to portray Rand as beholden to out-of-state interests.
And in a largely conservative state, Grayson has loaded his gun with some teflon-coated ammunition and blasted away at Paul's pro-life credentials.
But a look at the endorsements garnered by both candidates tells an interesting story.
On a national level, Dick Cheney has endorsed Trey Grayson. So has Rudy Guliani. So far, not so good, socially conservatively speaking. But then throw in Rick Santorum, former congressman from PA, known for his pro-life advocacy.
On a state level, the GOP establishment has endorsed Grayson across the board. Mitch McConnell, eastern KY congressman Hal Rogers, and a whole raft of GOP state-level office holders. One notable, fascinating, and possibly telling exception has been the outgoing Bunning.
And Grayson no doubt blesses the day that the Kentucky Right To Life gave him their endorsement.
But the puzzle is well illustrated by the reversal of Dr. James Dosbon.
Not more than two weeks ago, my answering machine fielded a call from Dr. Dobson.
His recorded voice urged me to vote for Trey Grayson, the best choice for social conservatives.
Well, no doubt you've heard, but Dobson has since retracted that endorsement, citing bad intelligence from GOP contacts, and thrown in with Rand Paul.
And add Sarah Palin to Paul's growing and impressive list.
And Concerned Women for America, and Gun Owners of America, and Steve Forbes, and if you weren't conflicted enough already, the Northern Kentucky Right To Life chapter.
Gay marriage is practically a non-issue in KY. Same-sex marriage has as much likelihood of happening in Kentucky as a concealed-carry law in Massachusetts.
But Rand Paul has mixed his own signals on this issue. As of now, he talks like a true "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" kind of guy. But in the past he has advocated more of a state by state position on this issue, a position unlikely to curry favor with social conservatives, but since we're dealing with the past . . .
Sec. Grayson has his own checkered past. He used to be a Democrat. He was in fact, a Clinton delegate in 1992.
At this point I would like to bring up Santorum's endorsement. In '08, Santorum completely floored me by favoring Mitt Romney for president. Romney's pro-life credentials don't even deserve the label "suspect." They don't, in fact, exist. He changes them according to what office he's running for.
Grayson's conversion was not so recent and so obviously convenient as Romney's, but canvassing for Bill Clinton certainly doesn't add to his conservative luster.
Paul's opponents have also brought up the ubiquitous Israel issue.
No clear answers here, either.
Paul vehemently denies any anti-Israel position, voicing a desire for a recommitment to our ally, but his reticence to engage in affairs around the world could be construed, perhaps legitimately, as a signal to the nation of Israel that they are on their own. But is this stance anti-Israel, or "pro-get out of Israel's way? Is it anti-Israel to unleash Israel? This is a seriously contentious issue, but I do believe Israel has been hindered almost as much as it has been helped by the U.S. Time after time, we have held our allegiance over Israel's head as leverage to make them stand down in their difficulties with their enemies.
And, for what it's worth, in Dobson's endorsement, he takes care to mention this issue that he knows is near and dear to the evangelical heart, saying that Paul "supports Israel."
Another caveat to the Kentucky RTL's endorsement of Grayson.
Does anyone remember when National Right To Life endorsed Fred Thompson for president?
Fred Thompson, you'll remember is the man who has lobbied for abortion clinics, and when pressed about the discrepancy, compartmentalized his positions as "business" on the one hand and politics on the other.
I have to say I'm leaning toward Paul, but with some reservations.
Bunning's endorsement, oddly enough, may be the deciding factor. Bunning has nothing to lose, nothing owed to his former buddies in the Kentucky GOP.
Of course, his endorsement of Rand could be attributed to mere vindictiveness over being abandoned, but Bunning's last stand over the unemployment extension signal more of an agenda of principle than revenge.
If only he had spent more time standing on his own two feet as opposed to continually placing one or the other appendage in his mouth, maybe we wouldn't have to make this decision.
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