- Associated Press - Saturday, May 22, 2010

WASHINGTON (AP) — Even as national Republican officials seek ways to limit damage from Rand Paul’s unorthodox remarks, the Kentucky Senate nominee raised more eyebrows Friday by defending the oil company blamed for the Gulf oil spill.

Those comments, on top of Paul’s earlier suggestion that businesses should have the right to turn away racial minorities, sent gleeful Democrats into full attack mode while top Republicans pondered how to calm things down.

It’s a delicate issue. The Republican establishment spurned Paul and supported his opponent, Trey Grayson, the hand-picked choice of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Paul, a favorite of the tea party movement, walloped Grayson in Tuesday’s primary. Now, chastened GOP leaders are dealing with a novice and outsider who, feeling his oats, has expressed his robust libertarian views in a series of interviews that have caused political pros to wince.

High-ranking Republicans from Washington have quietly reached out to Paul and his aides, trying to start healing the breach and to nudge him toward greater campaign discipline, said three GOP operatives close to the situation.

The three, who would speak only on background to avoid antagonizing Paul and his supporters, disagreed on how the initial exchanges have gone. A Washington-based Republican official, who has spoken with Paul’s campaign advisers, said the harsh national reaction to the nominee’s MSNBC interview on Wednesday “was like a wake-up call” to his inner circle.

“They know they messed up” by allowing liberal show host Rachel Maddow to draw out Paul’s thoughts on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the official said. Paul told Maddow he abhors racial discrimination, but he also suggested the federal government shouldn’t have the power to force restaurants to admit minorities against their will.

There were signs late Friday that Paul was getting the message. His campaign canceled his scheduled appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” accusing reporters of being obsessed with the civil rights flap.

“They just want to keep beating this same dead horse,” said campaign manager David Adams. “We’re finished talking about that.”

Whether Paul will embrace other advice from outsiders is unclear. A well-connected Republican official, based in Kentucky, said the nominee is extremely self-confident and may resist the idea of bringing more experienced and mainstream GOP strategists into his circle.

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