By Kathleen Hunter
WASHINGTON — When Rand Paul held the Senate floor for a 13-hour filibuster last week, followers sent a Twitter appeal to "Stand with Rand." As the hashtag went viral, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., appeared on the floor to applaud Paul for his "courage and conviction."
McConnell's cameo during Paul's performance underscored a mutually beneficial relationship that's developed between the two Kentucky Republicans — one a freshman senator, the other a five-termer — who were once political adversaries.
"What Rand was doing last week brought back a lot of memories of the early part of my career," McConnell, 71, said Tuesday, recalling a 1994 filibuster he led that derailed campaign finance legislation. Paul, 50, was blocking the nomination of John Brennan to serve as CIA director and protesting the administration drone policies he helped craft.
The lawmakers have been cultivating an alliance ever since Paul won a 2010 Senate Republican primary against McConnell's preferred candidate, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson.
The relationship carries dividends for Paul, a prospective 2016 presidential candidate, in that good relations with McConnell gives him more latitude to push his political agenda. For McConnell, who will be seeking re-election next year, Paul provides a bridge to the party's anti-tax tea partyy wing and reduces the odds that it will fuel a primary challenge to him. Paul is co-founder of the Senate tea party Caucus.
In the general election, actress Ashley Judd has said she is considering running for the seat as a Democrat.
Paul and McConnell "both respect the other's political instinct," said John David Dyche, a former political columnist for the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. "They're both just such good politicians that they quickly realized that they did have a lot more in common and could help each other a lot more than any differences were worth to either of them."