BY SHANE GOLDMACHER
This article appears in the September 6, 2014 edition of National Journal Magazine as Bluegrass Battle.
This past March, Kentucky's state Senate took a vote that was rather important to Rand Paul. The U.S. senator and his allies were seeking to undo a state law that prohibits someone from appearing on the ballot twice at the same time—say, both for president and U.S. Senate. This is a problem for Paul because the Republican is widely expected to run for the White House in 2016 while also seeking reelection to the Senate.
The state Senate in Frankfort is solidly controlled by Republicans, so it was no surprise that the bill passed by a wide margin, with debate lasting only 20 minutes. Yet there was one odd thing about the vote: A single Republican broke ranks with his party to oppose the measure. His name—Sen. Chris Girdler—is less important than his allegiances: Girdler is the former top state operative for the longest-serving member of Kentucky's congressional delegation, Republican Rep. Harold Rogers, and he is widely seen as Rogers's proxy in the Statehouse. Girdler did not return my calls for comment, but in Kentucky's political circles, there was little doubt as to why he'd taken such a public stand against Paul.
"It was on direct order from Hal Rogers," alleges David Adams, who managed Paul's 2010 primary campaign. "No doubt about that." Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, who is close to Rogers, was more circumspect when asked about Girdler's vote. "I noticed," Beshear told me, repressing a smile.
That Rogers and Paul have an unfriendly rivalry is an open secret among Kentucky politicos. Rogers, a 76-year-old House member with perfectly parted white hair, and Paul, a 51-year-old first-term senator with rumpled brown curls, are a study in contrasts—in appearance, in personality, and, most important, in their politics. "They are," says Jonathan Miller, a Democrat and a former Kentucky state treasurer, "the perfect emblems of the cleavages that are going on in the Republican Party."