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Rand Paul defeated Republican establishment favorite Trey Grayson in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, a closely watched race that was a key test of the tea party movement's strength.
Paul, the son of former presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, on Tuesday gave the tea party its first victory in a statewide election -- one that could embolden the fledgling political movement in other states. With 31 percent of precincts reporting, Paul was leading with 65,702 votes, or 59 percent, to Grayson's 40,767 votes or 37 percent.
Paul, a 47-year-old Bowling Green eye surgeon, had never before run for office and turned to the Internet fundraising model used by his father to pay for his campaign. Grayson stayed competitive drawing heavy financial support from traditional GOP donors inside Kentucky.
The Kentucky election was being watched around the country, especially after tea party activists helped to defeat three-term Sen. Bob Bennett in Utah and forced Florida Gov. Charlie Crist to abandon the GOP to make an independent run for the Senate.
Paul began the race as a long shot against Grayson, the GOP establishment candidate and perceived frontrunner in the race to replace retiring Sen. Jim Bunning.
The 78-year-old former major league pitcher opted not to seek a third term under pressure from Republican leaders who considered him politically vulnerable. Bunning ended up bucking them by endorsing Paul.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin also supported Paul, while Grayson received endorsements from establishment leaders Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Paul, the son of Texas Congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul, built his campaign on a handful of issues that showed key differences between him and Grayson. Among them, Paul promised to vote only for a balanced budget, to eliminate
congressional earmarks, and to institute term limits. Grayson said it isn't practical to vote only for a balanced budget, objected to the elimination of earmarks and opposed term limits.
Both voiced support for the coal industry and the jobs it brings to Kentucky, where the unemployment rate has been hovering at 10.7 percent since January, about a point above the national rate.
Murray resident Bill Osburn said he voted for Paul because "he's not a politician."
"I'm against the establishment. They're all crooked, unreliable and selfish for power," said Osburn, 79, a military retiree. "We need citizen representatives, not political politicians."
Although Kentucky is solidly Democratic by voter registration, it tends to vote Republican in federal races. The GOP holds both of the state's Senate seats and four of six House seats, and Republican John McCain carried the state in last year's presidential election with 57 percent of the vote.