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Rand Paul celebrates his Tea Party-fueled win

By Peter Hamby, CNN Political Producer
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Rand Paul to Dems: 'Bring it on'
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul's triumph represents biggest victory of the 2010 election season for Tea Party
  • GOP establishment backed Secretary of State trey Grayson
  • Small-government advocate Paul would ax Education, Agriculture departments

Bowling Green, Kentucky (CNN) -- Rand Paul, a first time political candidate and beloved figure among Tea Party activists, captured the Republican nomination for Senate in Kentucky on Tuesday night.

His primary opponent, Secretary of State Trey Grayson, conceded the race as polls showed Paul cruising to a nearly 25-point victory. He urged his supporters to unite behind the GOP nominee.

Surrounded by family members, Paul addressed a small victory rally at his country club in Bowling Green. But he directed his remarks squarely at leaders in Washington.

"We have come to take our government back," he said, as his supporters cheered and sipped cocktails. "This Tea Party movement is a message to Washington that we're unhappy and that we want things done differently."

Paul, an opthamologist from Bowling Green, will face Democrat Jack Conway, the state Attorney General, in the general election. Conway defeated Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo in the Democratic primary.

After his speech, he told CNN that his message to the Republican establishment was a "friendly" one.

"There is a movement and I think they're aware of it and I want to make the Republican Party is believable as fiscal conservatives again," he said. "That's what I want. And I think a lot of them want that too. They just need a little guidance."

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Paul's triumph represents the biggest victory of the 2010 election season for the Tea Party movement, which joined forces with supporters of Paul's father, former presidential candidate Ron Paul, to overwhelm Grayson and his backers in the state's GOP establishment.

The elder Paul said his son's win is symbolizes the "growth of the freedom movement" and rejected the suggestion that he would have to alter his conservative views to win a general election contest.

"This is what is so important to us and the supporters here," the longtime Texas congressman told CNN. "They want to see us move toward a free society. They don't want totalitarianism. They don't want deficits. They don't want big government. The country is shifting in our direction."

The primary result levied a direct blow to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who tapped Grayson for the party nomination last year. But McConnell and his influential political operation were powerless against the anti-establishment fervor sweeping Kentucky's Republican primary electorate.

McConnell and other GOP leaders in Washington, however, were quick to line up behind Paul after his win in a show of party unity. Both candidates will appear with McConnell at a rally on Saturday in Frankfort.

"Dr. Paul ran an outstanding campaign which clearly struck a chord with Kentucky voters and I congratulate him on his impressive victory," McConnell said in a statement. The two men also spoke by phone after the race was called, a conversation Paul described as "friendly."

Paul's supporters, though, trumpeted the failure of establishment figures like McConnell who fought relentlessly to defeat the small government crusader.

Kentucky's outgoing Sen. Jim Bunning, who has a chilly relationship with McConnell and endorsed Paul in the race to succeed him, said Tuesday's result was "a clear signal to the Washington establishment that it's time to shake things up."

Conservative icon Richard Viguerie went even further, suggesting McConnell should resign for being "enormously out of touch" with the Republican electorate.

"The elections results are a massive repudiation of McConnell and the Republican congressional leadership, which aggressively supported Grayson," Viguerie said in a statement.

Democrats wasted little time in accusing Paul of being too radical to compete in a general election. Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine said Paul's "extreme ideas" -- like dismantling the Department of Education and the Federal Reserve -- will drive voters to Conway's side.

Paul has campaigned on a message of vastly scaling back the size of government, calling for an end to federal earmarks. He has promised not to alter his uncompromising views in the general election.

During the contentious primary battle, Grayson and his allies argued that Paul's beliefs, particularly on foreign policy matters, will alienate not just moderates in a general election but also rank-and-file GOP voters. Paul opposes the Patriot Act, wants to scale back American military efforts abroad and once called for the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay -- hardly mainstream views within the GOP.

Democrats are relishing the chance to highlight some of Paul's unconventional positions to drive a wedge between him and Kentucky voters.

"For Democrats in Kentucky to be successful this November, we must be aggressive in framing the choice for voters," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Eric Schultz said in a memo to reporters after Conway's win. "Jack Conway is focused on creating jobs and the needs of the middle class, while Rand Paul is more focused on appealing to the fringe of the Republican Party."

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