There are other potential Rand Pauls in battleground races around the country: grassroots favorites aiming to sweep aside more conventional, establishment picks. They share the kind of astringent ideology that can excite Tea Partyers while turning off swing voters.
The top contender to be the next Paul may be former Nevada state Assemblywoman Sharron Angle, who is in a three-way dogfight for that state's June 8 primary. Casino owner and former state party chair Sue Lowden seemed to be cruising to the nomination before she started opining about returning to a healthcare barter system. Her approving recollections of people paying their doctors with live poultry (surely giving new meaning to the phrase "wing-nut") prompted Democrats to call her health plan "Chickens for Checkups."
As Lowden stumbled, the Tea Party Express endorsed Angle, who surged out of polling obscurity. Democrats thrill at the idea of squaring her off against flagging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Her platform is a fringe greatest hits. The departments of Energy and Education, and the Environmental Protection Agency are all unconstitutional, she argues, and she wants to pull the United States out of the United Nations and abolish campaign contribution limits. Oh yeah, and she wants to privatize Social Security. No wonder a Reid aide told Politico: "She's a female Rand Paul."
Or take Colorado, where incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet (who himself faces a primary challenge), polls in the low 40s. National Republicans quietly boosted former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton. But grassroots conservatives favor Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, who nabbed 76 percent of the votes at the state party's convention, securing him the top spot on the primary ballot on August 10. (Norton had skipped the convention, opting to get onto the ballot by collecting voter signatures.)
There seem to be few substantive differences between Buck and Norton, but Norton's establishment imprimatur, combined with Buck's more truculent profile, has the rabid base riled up. Buck gained notoriety in Colorado in 2008 when he (illegally, the state Supreme Court later ruled) seized thousands of returns from a local tax preparer on a fishing expedition for illegal immigrants. Image and tone matter, especially where swing voters are concerned, a fact reflected in poll numbers showing Bennet slightly ahead of Buck, but slightly behind Norton.
Republicans may get luckier in California against Sen. Barbara Boxer and in Washington against Sen. Patty Murray, where the right's favorites are still marked underdogs, against more moderate—more electable—establishment favorites.
The notion that Rand Paul may be a harbinger rather than an outlier has some GOP-ers worried. The fact that he and his friends could actually win should bother everyone else.