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Candidates see Tea Party support as a double-edged sword



WASHINGTON — 'Tis the season of political discontent, and candidates like Kentucky Republican Senate hopeful Rand Paul are dancing a delicate waltz as they on the one hand bask in the Tea Party movement's kinetic energy and anti-establishment themes while on the other sidestep being too closely aligned with the group when the rhetoric turns rancorous.

Political analysts see the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky as an interesting experiment in grassroots insurgency powered by disgruntled conservatives. Should Paul succeed at managing the balancing act and sail on to a victory over the GOP establishment's favorite — Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson — in the state's May 18 primary, the win could prove a harbinger of things to come this November.

“I think they’re ready for a lot of people to come home — that includes incumbents,” said Paul, the son of 2008 presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. “There’s a Tea Party tidal wave coming, and when it comes it’s going to sweep a lot of people out.”

But a lot of that depends on whether Paul, a 47-year-old eye surgeon from Bowling Green, Ky., can avoid some potential landmines.

Last month, Tea Party-affiliated health care bill protesters gathered outside the U.S. Capitol shouted racial epithets at Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia congressman and civil rights icon, and spat on Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who is also African American. The protesters also used a slur as they confronted Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., an openly gay member of Congress.

During protests last summer, demonstrators displayed a poster depicting Obama as an African witch doctor complete with headdress, above the words "OBAMACARE coming to a clinic near you."

Paul, who has been a fixture at Tea Party events since the movement’s infancy, says he does not condone such actions. He points out that the group’s rallies are a “sort of open mike night” where the actions of a few have led to “a lot of misconception nationally about the Tea Party movement.”

His Web site coyly asks whether he’s a “Tea Party poster child?” and his stump speeches utilize anti-
big government Tea Party buzzwords like “Obamacare.” But he stops short of acknowledging outright membership.


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